Hey, Feds: Baltimore suffers murders, not migrants

As Baltimore’s long hot summer of homicide bends toward an equally murderous fall, one might presume it’s long past time for all hands on deck. Baltimore’s police commissioner and mayor clearly understand that. Maryland’s Republican governor and top lawmakers seem to be on board, too. But this week’s raid by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement demonstrates that the Trump administration is not going to be part of the solution, it’s going to be part of the problem, with the arrest of 28 individuals targeted for immigration violations because parts of Maryland were deemed “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Perhaps some of those 28 are dangerous people, but all were arrested on civil immigration charges, not for committing crimes. ICE identified one of the detained as a Salvadoran woman previously convicted of first-degree assault who was once charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. In addition to the five detainees taken in Baltimore, the sweep extended to Baltimore County as well as Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. An ICE spokeswoman on Friday claimed some had criminal histories or face pending charges, but specifics were in short supply. Statistically, the chances that an individual who entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa is a violent criminal is lower than for legal U.S. residents, studies have shown. Baltimore’s murders aren’t being committed by recent arrivals to this country; most are being perpetrated by homegrown individuals living in dangerous, impoverished, drug-infested neighborhoods where shootings perpetrate more shootings which perpetrate more shootings.

Never mind that the feds are spending tax dollars on the wrong problem, the real crime is that the U.S. Department of Justice, Homeland Security, ICE and other others in the alphabet soup of Washington bureaucracy aren’t camped out on Charm City’s doorstep right now looking for any opportunity they can to make our city safer. The United States hasn’t seen a rise in murders; the overall rate remains close to the lowest in a quarter-century. What the country does have are pockets of violence in troubled cities like Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago. And instead of helping these communities, the Trump administration is threatening to cut off federal aid to those they regard as having sanctuary policies. To make their point, ICE conducted raids this week taking nearly 500 allegedly undocumented immigrants into custody.

Baltimore’s situation is surely among the most bizarre. ICE targeted Baltimore because the agency claims the city is “shielding criminal aliens.” How does it do that? The most common complaint is that the local jail ignores ICE requests to detain illegal immigrants who are set to be released. There’s one problem with that allegation: It can’t be true. The city has no control over those policies. City inmates fall under the jurisdiction of the state where Gov. Larry Hogan has pledged to cooperate fully with ICE. In other words, Baltimore is getting punished for no good reason while the real issue — a 2017 homicide total that is threatening to surpass New York City’s for the first time despite the nearly 14-to-1 difference in overall population — is getting ignored.

Worse, the Justice Department has actually been threatening to withhold federal aid (under the National Public Safety Partnership) from Baltimore unless it provides DHS with greater access to information about immigrant detainees. Not only are they barking up the wrong tree, they appear happy to set the tree on fire, chop it down and grind down the stump while they are at it. The murders clearly mean nothing to the Trump administration, and they are even less interested in how a crackdown on undocumented immigrants makes it tougher for police officers to do their jobs. As Commissioner Kevin Davis has pointed out more than once, this focus on immigration status simply means Baltimore’s immigrant community, documented or undocumented, is going to be less likely to cooperate with law enforcement.

We can’t afford that. It’s all hands on deck time, remember, and that means everyone — prosecutors, police, Mayor Catherine Pugh, the City Council, city residents and business owners from every corner of the city — needs to be rowing in the same direction toward reducing violent crime. There are many ways to go about this. Catching and convicting the bad guys is the most obvious, but boosting schools, housing, employment, health and other safety net programs is, too. What we don’t have time for is for someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to unilaterally to boost his political base by sacrificing Baltimoreans to his contemptible anti-immigrant demagoguery. Baltimore is burning, and President Donald Trump isn’t just some ineffectual Nero with a fiddle, he’s only too happy to toss kerosene on the conflagration.

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