Thursday, October 12, 2006

Local Governments should join ICE training program

That was my headline for my Thursday column, which ran in the paper as "Joining the ICE Training Program".

It answers the objections found in a recent editorial run by the paper titled "Is it Manassas or Herndon South". Greg L. over at BVBL deconstructed their "inane editorial" in a post titled "MJM puts it's head in the Sand" the same day I wrote my column, and made a lot of the same points.

My column, which was only 740 words long, was knocked down to 660 words by stripping the last two paragraphs. I put them back here, because I liked them.

When the column gets posted to their web site, I'll strip this down, reference the site, and add some commentary. For now, here's the full column:

Recently the town of Herndon, beset by problems with illegal immigration, voted to join a federal program which trains police officers for immigration enforcement. Manassas City Councilman and 50th district Delegate Candidate Jackson Miller thinks Manassas should join the program, and has asked the City Council to study the proposal. This is an excellent idea, and all our local jurisdictions should join this free federal program.

The program, run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Administration, provides training and support to state and local law enforcement officials. ICE’s web site explains the value of the program in combating both terrorism and criminal activity:

“State and local law enforcement play a critical role in protecting our homeland security because they are often the first responders on the scene when there is an incident or attack against the United States. During the course of daily duties, they will often encounter foreign-born criminals and immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety.”

A recent editorial in this paper (Is it Manassas or Herndon South? October 8, 2006) opposed local participation. But the arguments were based on speculative fear, and were at odds with the specific proposals and real-world results.

The paper cites the strain on the local police force. The training does take five weeks, but after that the program can take as little or as much time as desired. For example, Miller proposes the police act only “when they arrest an immigrant on local charges." The idea is to provide additional tools to handle illegal immigrants who break the law, not to just round up illegal immigrants.

The paper suggests arresting and detaining illegal immigrants would overcrowd the jails, or require transportation to other jurisdictions. But suspects arrested for criminal activity would already be in jail. And running an occasional busload of illegal immigrants to another area jail is a small price to pay for ridding our communities of lawbreakers who are also here illegally.

The next objection is more serious: “How many local immigrants would be willing to come forward and report a crime or testify in court, if they already saw the police as immigration agents?” This would require a public relations campaign to explain that enforcement is targeted at criminals. In any case legal immigrants have nothing to fear from enforcement of illegal immigration laws. Fear can be overcome with results and community outreach. Legal immigrants will benefit greatly from reduced crime as the law-breaking illegal immigrants are removed from their communities.

The paper suggests the program is only intended to help border towns. But ICE says Herndon’s proposal will likely be accepted. There are programs already operating in places like Mecklenburg, North Carolina, certainly not a “border town”. In fact, border towns probably don’t need this program – illegal immigrants don’t stay at the border. This program is for places where illegal immigrants live – and our area has a serious population of illegal immigrants, and a serious problem of criminal activity by those illegal immigrants.

Manassas police Chief John Skinner is also concerned about the resources necessary to run a new program. Certainly it won’t be free – nothing worthwhile is. But removing a portion of the criminal population will reduce repeat offenses, and should also deter other illegal immigrants who currently see themselves as above the law and untouchable.

Rather than speculating about the program, we can examine the program in action. Mecklenburg County, North Carolina sent 12 officers through training. Sheriff Jim Pendergraph says the program “has been a success beyond what I had even imagined”. His agreement with ICE included removal of the identified offenders – but he’s captured so many illegals (over 800 so far) that ICE can’t keep up. ICE provides information to easily identify illegals, including those with out-of-state warrants: “We are finding people who are wanted in other parts of the country."

Pendergraph’s program is so successful that nearby Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloniger signed up as well. The illegal immigrants are leaving Mecklenburg and he wants to keep them out of Gaston. At least four other North Carolina counties are interested in joining the program.

So we can sit on our hands, mired in speculative fear. But I’d much prefer we take action based on the proven results and enthusiastic embrace of the program in places where it is already being used.

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