20 November 2006

Is "See No Evil" a Good Border Policy?

Scott Henson of the Grits for Breakfast blog notes a study by the El Paso Times which found that federal funds allocated to sheriffs' departments along the Texas border to combat drug traffic, violent crime, and terrorism were far more likely to result in arrests for illegal immigration:
[Reporter Brandi Grissom] crunched the data and found "border sheriffs are using federal dollars meant to fight drugs and violent crime to enforce federal immigration laws." For every one arrest made, she found, sheriffs' departments receiving Operation Linebacker funds reported seven suspected illegal immigrants to the US Border Patrol.

The article concludes from that 7:1 correlation that "border sheriffs are using federal dollars meant to fight drugs and violent crime to enforce federal immigration laws" and quotes another observer who concluded that "[m]oney the governor is allocating is clearly being misused". Henson has both local insight and legal expertise in this particular area and he seems to like their conclusions; for what it's worth, though, I don't.

Are the sheriffs misusing the federal money? Possibly, but I don't think you can draw that conclusion just from the fact that a disproportionate number of people arrested along the Texas border are illegal immigrants and not drug traffickers, violent criminals, or terrorists. On the contrary, that there are more illegal immigrants than drug traffickers, violent criminals, or terrorists near El Paso is approximately as shocking as the revelation that summers in El Paso are on the warm side. Frankly, I think it would be a true national calamity if it were otherwise, with more drug traffickers, violent criminals, and terrorists than illegal immigrants crossing the border thereabouts.

State Senator Eliot Shapleigh from El Paso, who commented in the article, is probably closer to the mark: "To me, the statistics say that the operation has been, in effect, an immigration operation, not a serious crime operation". "In effect", perhaps, but not necessarily by intention as others in the article concluded.

Notwithstanding the premature conclusions drawn, the study does raise a couple of valid concerns: First, was the federal crime program effectively defined and monitored? In other words, was this money a "blank check" to enable a dragnet operation rather than a targeted investigation? If so, I for one would wonder whether we taxpayers have been misled about the objectives of the program.

Second, what should we do with illegal immigrants who are detained (assume properly so) in the course of a drugs, violent crime, or terrorism-related investigation when they are subsequently cleared by the investigation? If a routine police stop finds that a detained person has outstanding warrants for an unrelated reason, those warrants are executed regardless whether the reason for the initial stop (again, assuming it was a proper one) is validated by the subsequent inquiry. If, during the course of that hypothetical police stop, evidence of unrelated illegal acts is in plain view, that evidence is not routinely ignored.

Establishing identity is a key initial matter in an investigation and an absence of proper documentation is, essentially, in plain view during any meaningful identity inquiry. Otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants run the risk of incidental detection of their situations just as would an individual who has a bench warrant pending for his failure to appear and answer for his speeding tickets. Whether this should be so is part of a broader inquiry, I think.

For my own part, I fail to understand why illegal immigrants should be given a free pass on their immigration violations just because they didn't turn out to be drug traffickers, violent criminals, or terrorists; Henson makes some thought-provoking arguments why incidental enforcement of immigration laws may be counter-productive to investigations of more serious crimes. It's a debate worth having in the course of our ongoing national consideration of immigration-related issues.


1 comment:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Of course, I'm not for a 'see no evil' border policy - I'm for rationalizing immigration laws. For most US history - until the late '60s - there were no, none, zero numerical limits on immigration across the southern border. I'm not arguing for NO limits, but current immigration policy simply ignores the realities of border life, history and economics, and IMO often makes us less safe when the vast sums of money thrown at the issue aren't spent wisely.

Thanks for taking the time to respond!