Saturday morning, while lying in bed reading The New York Times of October 1, I read an article that caused me great concern. The article began, “In a significant reversal, the Bloomberg administration said Friday that it would support a City Council bill that would hamper federal authorities’ ability to detain, and eventually deport, foreign-born inmates on Rikers Island who are about to be released. The decision is an important victory for the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, the sponsor of the bill, which is now almost certain to become law, and for immigrant advocates, who have long assailed the city’s cooperation with immigration agents based at the prison. Corrections Department officials routinely share lists of foreign-born inmates with immigration authorities, who then take custody of, detain and deport thousands of people who had been charged with misdemeanors and felonies. The arrangement is common across the country.”
There is a federal program known as “Secure Communities” which was described by The Times of September 30 as follows, “Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of anyone booked into jail by the state and local police are sent through the F.B.I. to the Department of Homeland Security, which tracks immigration violations. Immigration agents then decide whether to deport immigrants flagged by such checks.”
I thought to myself, this is ridiculous. The City of New York should not be frustrating the effort of the Obama administration to consider removing from the U.S. both legal and illegal immigrants who have been charged with misdemeanors or felonies. Removal is not automatic. As The Times pointed out, “Immigration agents [after receiving the information] then decide whether to deport immigrants flagged by such checks.”
Border states such as Louisiana, Alabama, Arizona, Texas and California are wrestling with local legislation enacted to make the efforts directed at illegal immigrants even stronger than federal efforts. The two states with the harshest anti-illegal-alien legislation seeking to apprehend and make life lawfully more difficult for illegals are Arizona and Alabama. Alabama’s law, which withholds a host of rights from illegal aliens, was overwhelmingly upheld by a federal district court as constitutional and not violative of any preemption right of the federal government. The Alabama law includes a prison penalty for landlords who knowingly rent to an illegal alien.
My own view is Alabama’s approach is much too harsh, bordering on the sadistic. Where does the state of Alabama want illegal aliens to sleep prior to their being placed in pre-deportation detention? On the streets? New York’s City Council bill, on the other hand, is too lenient. To effectively eliminate by local law the right of the federal government to make appealable deportation decisions would turn New York City into a sanctuary city which was the goal of a number of cities during the Vietnam War. Wrong then and wrong now.
The Obama administration, which supports efforts to legalize the status of illegal aliens by providing amnesty and a path to citizenship, is also seeking to return to their countries of origin illegal and legal aliens who have engaged in criminal activity. The Times of September 29 reported the following: “The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced on Wednesday that it had arrested 2,901 immigrants who have criminal records, highlighting the Obama administration’s policy of focusing on such people while putting less emphasis on departing illegal immigrants who pose no demonstrated threat to public safety. Officials from the agency portrayed the seven-day sweep, called Operation Cross Check, as the largest enforcement and removal operation in its history. It involved arrests in all 50 states of criminal offenders of 115 nationalities, including people convicted of manslaughter, armed robbery, aggravated assault and sex crimes. ‘These are not people who are making a positive contribution to their communities,’ said the agency’s director, John Morton. ‘They are not the kind of people we want walking our streets.’ More than 1,600 of those arrested had been convicted of a felony. The remainder had a misdemeanor conviction for matters like theft, forgery and driving while intoxicated, the agency said. Those arrested included illegal immigrants and lawful resident noncitizens who had been convicted of crimes that made them eligible to be deported.”
There are many Americans who believe in amnesty for illegal immigrants. I am not one of them. I believe immigrants are essential to our growth, our future and our need to keep our population young. I believe we should increase our legal immigration which now approximates annually one million, consisting of 750,000 immigrants and 250,000 asylees. There is no country in the world that has open borders, except by treaty and through reciprocity, e.g., members of the European Union. If Mexico, Canada and the U.S. – NAFTA – want to come to a similar agreement, I would support it. Mexico, with its 5.4 percent unemployment rate, significantly lower than America’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate, would likely not want Americans to run to Mexico to compete for jobs. I doubt that Canada, with its fear of being culturally dominated by the U.S., would welcome open borders.
Radical ideas should be considered on the merits. I recall when I was a member of Congress in the mid-seventies, I proposed, after going to Canada to talk with American draft resisters who had fled there, that because of the feeling of the American public that our participation in the Vietnam War was immoral, the U.S. Congress should extend to all American draft resisters (many had gone to Canada) and all American deserters (many had gone to Sweden), amnesty. I was running for reelection to Congress at the time. My father came up from Florida to help campaign in my reelection. He was asked by a reporter, “Mr. Koch, what do you think of your son’s calling for amnesty for American deserters in Vietnam?” He replied in my defense, “Everybody is entitled to make a mistake.” I won, and more important, about six months later, President Carter provided by executive order amnesty to both draft resisters and deserters. Amnesty was perceived by Americans as appropriate in the immoral Vietnam War. I do not believe amnesty for those crossing our borders illegally is similarly considered appropriate by the American public.
It is surprising and I believe wrong that three states, including New York, have announced they will no longer participate in the security program. The New York Times of September 30 reported, “Mr. Patrick, a Democrat, announced in June that Massachusetts would not participate in Secure Communities, citing concerns that it casts too wide a net and leads to the deportation of immigrants with no criminal histories. Two other Democratic governors, Pat Quinn of Illinois and Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, have also rejected the program, though the Obama administration has announced plans to expand it nationwide, with or without states’ support, by the end of 2013.”
If the city and state want to assist those illegal and legal immigrants subject to deportation proceedings, they should create and fund a public defender’s office to represent these immigrants in those proceedings, and allow the courts to determine which of those who are charged with criminality should be exempted from return to their own country.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.