White House sets new obstacle to immigration enforcement

An administration Dec. 29 memo declares that illegal immigrants may have to be held until they’re convicted in local courts before the federal government will begin deportation proceedings.

The declaration “means lots of criminal aliens will be released if the locals don’t have the resources or inclination to prosecute, or if the [suspect] is found not guilty because of a technicality,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Many absconders already settle in other states, and some commit additional crimes against Americans. In October, for example, an illegal immigrant from Bolivia was convicted or murdering a nun in a drunk-driving crash in Virginia.

Under long-standing laws, state officials are allowed to hold illegal immigrants for an extra 48 hours if federal immigration officers offer to take them into custody for subsequent deportation.

The new rule shows “the administration wants to give up one of the most important tools in preserving public safety,” said Krikorian. “We’ll have more and more instances of illegals released by police because [federal immigration officials] wouldn’t take them [and] who then go on to commit some heinous crime,” he said.

The U.S. hosts perhaps 9 million illegal immigrants, of which roughly 1.5 million illegals have committed major or minor crimes while staying in the country, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the CIS.

The new rule complements administration efforts to spur Hispanic support for the 2012 election by relaxing enforcement of immigration laws.

President Barack Obama’s campaign aides frequently say they’re seeking Hispanic support to win crucial states, such as North Carolina and Arizona. On Dec. 19, for example, Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina released a video in which he said Arizona was winnable because “hundreds of thousands” of people in the state have not registered to vote.

The campaign is using Hispanic ethnic lobbies, such as La Raza, to help register Hispanics and to persuade them to vote in November.

But the ethnic lobbies have their own demands.

They want easier immigration for their ethnic or religious groups, including Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, Irish and Muslims.

The public and Congress oppose amnesty bills, so the lobbies’ demands have prompted administration officials to roll back enforcement of immigration laws.

In recent months, Eric Holder, the scandal-plagued Attorney General, has launched lawsuits against successful reforms implemented by several states — including Arizona — and has sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s police department in Arizona.

Janet Napolitano, who heads the Department of Homeland Security which oversees immigration enforcement, has also let her political deputies end routine checks of travelers in bus depots and has stopped legal proceedings against many illegals. Her department has also ordered immigration officials to largely ignore illegals who have not been convicted major crimes, and released the new memo Dec. 29.

These rollback policies are also being adopted despite the immigration reforms in Arizona and Alabama that have reduced the local unemployment rates.

The Dec. 29 memo announced a new 24-hour legal-aid hotline for illegal immigrants, but it also introduced a revised checklist for federal immigration officers.

The checklist is dubbed a “detainer” form, which federal officers have long used to request their state or local counterparts hold an illegal immigrant for an extra 48 hours beyond that allowed by local courts.

The new form includes a new box that federal officials can tick to make the detainer request conditional “upon the subject’s conviction.” The Dec. 29 memo says officials can “make the detainer operative only upon the individual’s conviction of the offense for which he or she was arrested.”

Translated, that new rule means Obama’s appointees say they may not allow federal immigration officers to accept illegal immigrants for deportation until after state and local officials detain, arraign, try and convict the suspects for the crimes they were initially arrested, said Vaughan.

But that trial process can take many months, and it is often abandoned once illegal-immigrant defendants — whom federal officers have declined to detain — skip bail or overburden local courts, she said. The new rule also increases the incentive for illegal-immigrant suspects to contest every legal step.

The new rule “is almost an obstruction of justice,” because it reduces the chance that the families of people victimized by illegal immigrants will ever see justice, said Vaughan.

Already, administration officials require local police to ignore likely illegal immigrants unless they have courtroom-ready evidence of illegality, she said. This month, for example, Arizona sheriff Arpaio announced that ICE officials have stopped accepting suspected illegals detained by his deputies in Arizona.

This new rule would allow the federal agencies to avoid detaining and deporting illegals even when police have courtroom-ready evidence of crimes, she said.

Political appointees in the ICE agency will use the new rule to pressure subordinate officers to refuse custody of illegals until they’ve been convicted by local courts, Vaughan said. The appointees have to pressure the immigration officers because those officers are already working to enforce the laws despite the other enforcement-rollback directives, she said.

That additional pressure is being applied already, because translated versions of the detainer form — including information about the new conviction rule and the hotline number — will be provided to apprehended suspects who can’t speak English, says the new memo.

The form will be translated for Spanish-speaking Hispanics, French-speaking Haitians, for Portuguese-speaking Africans and Brazilians, as well as Chinese speakers and Vietnamese, according to ICE.

Still, the political impact of the rollback policy is unclear because most Hispanics voters tell pollsters that their top political priorities are the economy and education, not immigration.

Those priorities give GOP candidates the opportunity to win perhaps 40 percent of votes from Hispanic communities. These communities include distinctly different groups, such as GOP-leaning Cubans and Democratic-dominated Puerto Ricans in Florida, Mexicans in California and El Salvadorian business-owners on the East Coast.

But pollsters also say Hispanics’ voting is also heavily influenced by candidates’ apparent insults or compliments of their community. That respect factor works to the Democrats’ advantage because many GOP candidates’ support for the enforcement of immigration law is portrayed by established media and Spanish-language media as personal animus towards Hispanics.

Obama’s approval among Hispanics is down from its 2008 level, but remains above 60 percent.

However, Obama’s campaign officials are worried that Hispanics who are disappointed with the stalled economy won’t turn out to vote in 2012 unless they also see a GOP presidential candidate as hostile to their ethnic group.

The effort to rollback enforcement of immigration law follows the refusal by the White House to push for an amnesty bill.

The White House balked, in part, because the public and Congress oppose any amnesty that would bring more low-skilled workers into an economy where unemployment is above 10 percent among low-skilled workers, Hispanics and African-Americans.

Unemployment is so high that fewer than 50 percent of African-American males aged between 20 and 30 have a full-time job.

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