Our view: The Republican Party’s anti-immigration agenda is back in the spotlight and it’s just as counterproductive, hateful and costly as ever
With their proposed repeal of Obamacare proving too costly and ineffective to pass Congress, Republicans this week pivoted to another costly and ineffective boondoggle — xenophobic immigration policy. First, it was the new State Department guidelines on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries (made possible by the Supreme Court’s Monday decision to allow the Trump administration to institute a limited version of its proposed travel ban). What has resulted is slightly bizarre. With the court insisting that anyone with a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” must be allowed in, the new guidelines grant access to step-siblings and in-laws but shut the door on grandparents or nieces. Feel safer yet?
Today, the House upped the ante further by passing its latest version of “Kate’s Law,” a mandatory minimum sentencing measure for immigrants caught reentering the U.S. without proper documentation. It is named after Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was killed in 2015 in San Francisco. Her alleged murderer was Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national, drug user and convicted felon who was in the country illegally. The case has become a cause celebre for the anti-immigration right who like to point out that if the gunman had been sitting in a jail cell instead of walking along Pier 14 two years ago, Ms. Steinle would likely be alive today.
The problem with that rationale is the threat of jail time for illegally crossing the border isn’t an effective deterrent. Mr. Lopez-Sanchez was detained multiple times by Border Patrol. (He was at large in San Francisco only because he was mistakenly released by the federal Bureau of Prisons). Meanwhile, as studies have shown over and over again, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit violent crime than people who are walking the streets legally. Put more such individuals in jail for overstaying their visas a second time, perhaps, or climbing a border fence to reunite with their family in the U.S., and what you are certain to get are crowded jails — as many as 57,000 more individuals in federal prisons, according to one estimate. As we’ve observed before, mandatory minimum sentences aren’t an effective way (and particularly not a cost-effective way) to reduce crime of any kind.
But that apparently wasn’t anti-immigrant and ineffectual enough for House Republicans who today also approved the “No Sanctuaries for Criminals Act,” which targets so-called “sanctuary cities” that would allow the federal government to withhold funds for such useful pursuits as battling opioid addiction or addressing rape kit backlogs if cities failed to comply with certain requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants for immigration-related offenses. This kind of heavy-handed federal intrusion into local law enforcement decisions would normally elicit howls of protest from states’-rights-minded members of the GOP but not, apparently, when it offers a chance to round up Latino jaywalkers, loiterers or litterers who might run afoul of local law enforcement.
Let states and cities prosecute real crime, and let ICE enforce immigration. When a minor offense — or perhaps simply asking a police officer for protection from a violent boyfriend — creates the risk of deportation, it’s not difficult to envision what happens next: the nation’s undocumented immigrants lose trust in authorities and stay hidden in the shadows where they are easy prey for criminals. That translates into more serious crime, not less. Think that’s overstating the reaction by the 11 million or so who live, work and raise families in the U.S. today?
As The Sun’s Carrie Wells and Talia Richman reported earlier this week, 30 workers failed to show up at one Southeast Baltimore restaurant because ICE was merely reviewing employment records at The BoatHouse Canton, and they are reportedly fearful of coming back. Think the city neighborhoods where those line cooks and dishwashers live are better off with them not working and supporting themselves and their families?
It is all very well to make the nation’s borders more secure and restrict entry into the country when individuals are found to be dangerous, and it’s more than acceptable to prosecute real criminals to the fullest extent of the law. But the policies that advanced this week won’t achieve those goals and are bound to do more harm than good. Fortunately, the Senate is unlikely to approve either House bill (similar legislation faced a filibuster in the chamber last year), but that doesn’t mean the nation still isn’t hurt when elected officials stand up and vent irrational hatred and fear of individuals who are far less likely to be dangerous than to be themselves the victims of violence, poverty and persecution in their native countries.
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