Immigration two-step

The Baltimore Sun

Months after two illegal immigrants were charged in the killing of a 14-year-old scholar-athlete, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has sidestepped the controversial idea of requiring potential lawbreakers to prove their immigration status. Instead, police will send the names of all those arrested for violent crimes and handgun violations to federal immigration officials.

It's the kind of compromise you might expect from Mr. Leggett, who presides over a county with the fastest-growing immigrant population in the state. The new policy, which avoids concerns about profiling, is politically expedient without causing Mr. Leggett undue political harm. Until federal officials begin reforming the country's immigration laws, Mr. Leggett and other local officials will be forced to weigh public safety concerns against civil liberties in just this untenable fashion.

We've opposed any use of local police as de facto immigration agents. New residents have to feel that they can trust police enough to report a crime. But Montgomery County's policy doesn't satisfactorily address the public safety issues raised by the November killing of Tai Lam. The two illegal immigrants charged in the teen's death were previously arrested for carrying a machete and threatening a student with a switchblade, respectively. Each was released on bail and then subsequently arrested in the killing, and their illegal status became known.

If Mr. Leggett's new policy had been in place last year, it is unlikely that police would have sent the names of the two men to the Immigration Customs Enforcement office at their first arrests. Only after they had been charged with murder would their names appear on an ICE list.

So what's been accomplished here? Threatening a student with a switchblade is no small charge. A policy that requires police to send immigration officials the names of suspects for a number of crimes - violent, property and dangerous weapon offenses - might have a greater impact on public safety.

But the core problem remains: the need for comprehensive federal immigration reform. A panoply of local responses is not an effective solution.

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