At Large

Benign Neglect as Immigration Policy

The Obama Administration has found a new way to handle the problem of illegal immigration -- ignore it.

By 6.19.09

Send to Kindle

The Obama Administration has found a new way to handle the problem of illegal immigration. It is ignoring the entire matter politically. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has decided that the best way to deal with the negative aspects of this sensitive issue is to leave the subject in the hands of local officials, city, state and federal. Out of sight, out of the media, out of mind, she seems to think.

There is a continuing fear expressed by various Latino groups, among others, that illegal immigrants are harassed by local law enforcement personnel. In the mind of these associations, the fact that these individuals are suspected of being here in the United States illegally is not adequate reason to abridge their "civil rights" by seeking to determine if they are.

Harassment, by the way, means that often immigrants are stopped by police for apparently minor infractions, and are held on that charge while being checked through ICE (acronym for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm). This is not a uniform circumstance. Border states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have towns and cities that differ widely on local laws in regard to informing ICE of their police contact with possible "illegals." Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security stays as far away as possible from becoming involved in these discontinuities.

Within local law enforcement, depending on the judgment of the officer, there is also often a wide range of application of the same local laws. The Latino community in California, the Southwest, Florida, and elsewhere with large Hispanic immigrant populations has the ability to apply considerable local political pressure to protect "immigrant rights" of those who are documented or undocumented. Local law enforcement responds accordingly.

Secretary Napolitano's logic appears to be that the more local officials are tasked with the major portion of the burden of dealing with the presence of illegals in their communities, the less negative political fallout will occur on the Washington scene. Her entire approach to illegal immigration is to do everything possible to nullify the broader political effects of the legal and security aspects of ultimately millions of people pouring into the United States.

What is particularly curious is that Napolitano went to great trouble when she first took on her new assignment to de-emphasize countering the foreign-sponsored terrorist aspects of her job while making a priority of the economic and social impact of the growing problem of the "undocumented." Apparently that approach now has been relegated to local domestic concern.

Placing the weight of enforcement of the first phase of illegal immigration laws on local police is theoretically not inappropriate -- although it does conspicuously add to their workload. Local cops are the ones best acquainted with their communities. A relatively quick assessment of non-English speakers by local law enforcement can differentiate between those with community ties and those without.

The legally ticklish problem of "profiling" is a matter in which Sec. Napolitano does not want to become involved. Better leave that hot button issue to the people on the local level. She knows full well that cops "profile" suspects in many ways during their everyday assignments. Of course they are going to be attracted first by people of Mexican or Central American background. It's perhaps unfortunate, but these nationals make up the core of illegal entrants.

The pro-immigrant groups believe that asking non-English speakers to prove they are in the U.S. legally is discrimination – an infringement of their civil rights. In reality there is an ethnic based effort to encourage immigration, legal or illegal, from Mexico and more modestly from Central America. And this fact is what Janet Napolitano wants to avoid commenting on, to say nothing of acting on.

It is fallacious to argue that today's massive influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants is comparable to various European migration waves of the past. The time element and discrepancy in numbers, actual or relative, is overwhelming. The fact is that today's Hispanic immigrants actually seek to shift their socio-cultural heritage north to the U.S. rather than assume the language and socio-cultural environment that already exists here and on which this nation was built.

This was not a problem with the same Latino immigrants several decades ago. The difference is the current carefully organized sense of entitlement that encourages the view among primarily Mexican immigrants of their historically justified political right -- rather than a perception of privilege resulting from the generosity of American spirit.

Assimilation has been the bedrock of immigration to the United States for generations. Giving local law enforcement the responsibility of first line control of determining illegal entry has serious operational advantages. However, allowing federal responsibility to be diminished in order to avoid political blame is self-serving to the point of obstruction of the intent of homeland security.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.