Another Perspective

Sanctuary Laws and Giuliani

In cracking down on crime, was Rudy too soft on criminals who turned out to be illegals?

By 3.15.07

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There is much to like and admire about Rudy Giuliani -- particularly as it relates to his tenure as mayor of New York City. In his recent address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Giuliani pointed to some of his prominent successes as mayor, including sharp reductions in crime and substantial declines in the welfare rolls. He touched only lightly on his extraordinary leadership following September 11, but offered a powerful, ringing defense of President Bush's efforts to go on the offensive against Islamist terrorists, likening his approach to President Truman's efforts to challenge communist aggression after World War II.

Unfortunately, however, Giuliani did not address one issue that has the potential to seriously damage his efforts to win conservative support: his prior defense of "sanctuary" laws, which act as a shield for illegal immigrants. These laws, which are in effect in locations such as New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Miami and Austin and Montgomery County, Md., bar police from reporting immigration violations to federal authorities.

Open-borders advocates contend that the prohibitions constitute sound public policy because illegal immigrants are often the victims of serious crimes including domestic violence and robbery, and that allowing local police to report immigration violations to federal authorities would make them reluctant to cooperate with police and prosecutors in such cases.

Several responses are in order. The criminal code is filled with laws against relatively "minor" crimes -- writing bad checks, pick pocketing, petty theft, burglary, vandalizing someone's car, etc. If we were to prosecute everyone arrested for these crimes to the fullest and demand the maximum penalty every time, the legal system would grind to a halt and police would lose the ability to obtain information from small-time criminals that is absolutely essential to solving more serious crimes. So, we very sensibly grant police and prosecutors wide-ranging discretion in prosecuting relatively "minor" offenses. What we don't do is guarantee the perpetrators immunity from prosecution.

But that's what sanctuary laws like the one Mr. Giuliani supported in New York City effectively do. Even though these laws typically contain some reasonable-sounding language that would appear to allow the police to exercise commonsense discretion in deciding whether to work with immigration authorities, in practice such cooperation is so restricted that in some cases police have been unable to arrest gang members they know to be illegal aliens with prior criminal convictions unless they witness them committing new crimes.

ACCORDING TO HEATHER MAC DONALD of the Manhattan Institute, who closely tracks the issue of illegals and criminal activity, big-city police departments are deeply divided between police chiefs and senior officials who defend sanctuary policies and rank-and-file officers who believe that such policies deprive them of a critical law-enforcement tool -- the ability to work closely with immigration authorities to apprehend some of the most violent, dangerous criminal offenders -- persons who are in the United States illegally. Immigration policies "have harmed New York," Mac Donald wrote in a Winter 2004 article in City Journal titled "The Illegal Alien Crime Wave." She added:

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sued all the way up to the Supreme Court to defend the city's sanctuary policy against a 1996 federal law decreeing that cities could not prohibit their employees from cooperating with the INS. Oh yeah, said Giuliani, just watch me. The INS, he claimed, with what turned out to be grotesque irony, only aims to "terrorize innocent people." Though he lost in court, he remained defiant to the end. On September 5, 2001, his handpicked charter-revision committee ruled that New York could still require that its employees keep immigration information confidential to preserve trust between immigrants and government. Six days later, several visa-overstayers participated in the most devastating attack on the city and the country in history.

The issue came up again after a gang of Mexicans (four of them in the United States illegally) kidnapped and raped a 42-year-old mother of two in Queens on December 19, 2002. She was brutally assaulted before being rescued by a New York City Police Department canine unit. The NYPD had previously arrested three of the illegals for crimes such as assault and armed robbery. But it had failed to notify the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Responding to an angry public outcry, Giuliani's successor as mayor, Michael Bloomberg, made minor changes in the policy, only to reverse himself and make the policy even weaker after Hispanic activists complained that Bloomberg's changes endangered civil liberties.

And that's the crux of the problem. In most of America's major urban centers, these open-borders activists constitute a powerful voting bloc that politicians are loath to take on -- as are the police commissioners that they appoint. What results in city after city is permanent paralysis, as the police become so hogtied by the liberal politicians and Latino activists that come up with idiotic policies that endanger public safety.

PERHAPS NO CITY HAS BEEN more damaged by sanctuary-policy foolishness than Los Angeles, where a generation of politicians and police chiefs have been cowed by the illegal-alien lobby. In 1979, then-police chief Daryl Gates enacted something called Special Order 40, which bars police officers from asking someone they arrest about his immigration status before filing criminal charges; only after charging someone with a felony or multiple misdemeanors can police ask about immigration status. What results from these procedures, Los Angeles Police Department officers told Mac Donald, is that they frequently see gang members, whom they know to be previously deported felons, on the streets of L.A. after illegally re-entering the country. The police were (and still are) told they cannot arrest these criminals unless they put them under surveillance (a logistical impossibility when you have an already overstretched police force). What resulted was a city in which up to two-thirds of the fugitive warrants in Los Angeles in 2004 were for illegals, while 95 percent of all outstanding murder warrants were for illegals.

Giuliani isn't being asked too many questions about sanctuary policies, but he should be. For one thing, they would appear to directly contradict his approach to crime which worked so successfully when he was mayor of New York City: the idea that vigorous prosecution of relatively minor crimes improves the overall quality of life for the law-abiding majority and enhances the ability of law enforcement to pressure small-time offenders for cooperation in bringing the most dangerous, violent criminals to justice.

Indeed, people who have worked with Giuliani say he hasn't always been soft on the question of illegal immigration. Michael Cutler, a former INS agent, recounts a meeting sometime in the early 1980s in Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's office, during which Cutler led a group of immigration officers protesting what they said were insufficient criminal penalties for serial violators of federal immigration law. When he heard their concerns, D'Amato became angry and telephoned Giuliani, then U.S. attorney in New York, on his speaker phone. As Cutler and his fellow agents listened intently, Giuliani researched the relevant statute of the federal code, and then made it clear in no uncertain terms that he agreed: the penalties needed to be strengthened.

The relevant question today is this: Would President Giuliani govern like the tough-minded U.S. attorney who agreed with the border agents that day in D'Amato's office, or like the mayor who lobbied tenaciously to defend sanctuary policies? It's a pretty safe bet that the great majority of people who applauded him at CPAC would prefer the former -- and for good reason.

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About the Author

Joel Himelfarb is the assistant editor of the editorial page of The Washington Times.