White House putting a spot­light on im­mi­grant crime

Trump seeks sup­port for hard-line poli­cies, but crit­ics say fears in­flated

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAVID NAKAMURA david.nakamura@wash­post.com

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is launch­ing a se­ries of steps aimed at spot­light­ing the al­leged dan­gers posed by il­le­gal im­mi­grants, as it seeks to bol­ster po­lit­i­cal sup­port for the need for stricter en­force­ment.

Last week, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased a list of cities that have not fully co­op­er­ated with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties, and soon the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity will un­veil an of­fice staffed by more than two dozen em­ploy­ees tasked with closely as­sist­ing fam­i­lies of Amer­i­cans who were vic­tims of vi­o­lent crimes by un­doc­u­mented for­eign­ers.

DHS lawyers also are ex­am­in­ing fed­eral pri­vacy laws to de­ter­mine ways to more freely share po­ten­tially in­crim­i­nat­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on im­mi­grants among gov­ern­ment agen­cies and re­lease it pub­licly, in­clud­ing the na­tion­al­ity, im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus and crim­i­nal his­tory of those swept up in en­force­ment raids.

And on Thurs­day, the Jus­tice Depart­ment specif­i­cally high­lighted im­mi­gra­tion of­fenses and ar­rests dur­ing the re­lease of its an­nual fed­eral statis­tics re­port.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the strat­egy is in­tended to re­frame the po­lit­i­cal de­bate over im­mi­gra­tion re­form from what they view as a mis­placed em­pha­sis on the well-be­ing of the na­tion’s es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants to the neg­a­tive im­pacts their pres­ence can have on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

At the White House, Pres­i­dent Trump has on sev­eral oc­ca­sions used the bully pul­pit to high­light some of the most sen­sa­tional crimes by im­mi­grants, and he met in the Oval Of­fice with fam­ily mem­bers of their vic­tims.

“We are pro­vid­ing a voice to those who have been ig­nored,” Trump said dur­ing his prime­time ad­dress to Congress last month be­fore high­light­ing each of the fam­i­lies’ sto­ries.

“Th­ese brave men were vi­ciously gunned down by an il­le­gal im­mi­grant with a crim­i­nal record and two prior de­por­ta­tions,” Trump said to two wid­ows of law en­force­ment of­fi­cials killed in the line of duty. “Should have never been in our coun­try.”

But crit­ics, in­clud­ing civil rights ad­vo­cates and im­mi­gra­tion lawyers, said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is pur­posely in­flat­ing the dan­gers and scape­goat­ing a wide swath of im­mi­grants to ma­nip­u­late pub­lic fears and cre­ate more po­lit­i­cal sup­port for its hard-line poli­cies.

Although fed­eral data are lim­ited, two re­ports re­leased this month — by the Sen­tenc­ing Project and the lib­er­tar­ian Cato In­sti­tute — con­firmed past stud­ies that im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing those here il­le­gally, com­mit crimes at lower rates than do na­tive-born Amer­i­cans.

“The big-pic­ture con­cern is that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies seem premised on the idea that im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus is some kind of in­di­ca­tor for crim­i­nal­ity, when in fact that is not at all the case,” said Gre­gory Chen, ad­vo­cacy di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion. “Why is this ad­min­is­tra­tion so hy­per-fo­cused on mak­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween crime and im­mi­gra­tion?”

Trump has been mak­ing that con­nec­tion from his first cam­paign speech in June 2015, when he re­ferred to Mex­i­can il­le­gal im­mi­grants as rapists, crim­i­nals and drug deal­ers. He ap­peared at cam­paign events with “an­gel moms” whose chil­dren had been killed by un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Beyond il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, Trump has char­ac­ter­ized le­gal im­mi­grants as po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist threats in his at­tempts to en­act a ban on refugees and trav­el­ers from sev­eral ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim na­tions. Although his two travel-ban or­ders have been blocked in fed­eral court, the most re­cent one in­cluded a pro­vi­sion man­dat­ing that the gov­ern­ment be­gin pub­li­ciz­ing in­for­ma­tion about acts of “gen­der-based vi­o­lence against women,” in­clud­ing “honor killings,” in the United States by for­eign na­tion­als.

In a visit to DHS in Jan­uary, dur­ing which he signed a pair of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders to ramp up de­por­ta­tions in the United States, Trump said, “Pun­dits talk about how en­forc­ing im­mi­gra­tion laws can sep­a­rate il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies, but the fam­i­lies they don’t talk about are the fam­i­lies of Amer­i­cans.”

Trump’s fo­cus on those fam­i­lies, through the new of­fice called Vic­tims of Im­mi­gra­tion Crime En­gage­ment (VOICE), rep­re­sents a sharp break in rhetoric from his pre­de­ces­sor. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama em­pha­sized a bal­ance be­tween up­hold­ing the law and show­ing em­pa­thy to­ward im­mi­grants who had not com­mit­ted crimes, par­tic­u­larly those known “dream­ers,” who ar­rived in the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren and were of­ten de­picted as hard­work­ing strivers.

Last week, White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer cited a rape case at a high school in Rockville, Md., in which the two al­leged teenage per­pe­tra­tors were in the coun­try il­le­gally, as ra­tio­nale for Trump’s hard-line poli­cies.

“Part of the rea­son that the pres­i­dent has made il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and a crack­down such a big deal is be­cause of tragedies like this,” Spicer said, in re­sponse to a ques­tion about the case. “This is why he’s pas­sion­ate about this, be­cause peo­ple are vic­tims of th­ese crimes . . . . Im­mi­gra­tion pays its toll on our peo­ple, if it’s not done legally, and this is an­other ex­am­ple.”

Trump’s al­lies also have fea­tured cov­er­age of sen­sa­tional crimes by im­mi­grants. Bre­it­bart, the con­ser­va­tive news site pre­vi­ously over­seen by se­nior White House ad­viser Stephen K. Ban­non, reg­u­larly de­votes a sec­tion on its home page to such con­tent.

Trump aims to shine a spot­light on his be­lief that “bad im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy has con­se­quences for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies,” said Mark Kriko­rian, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, which ad­vo­cates for lower im­mi­gra­tion lev­els. “When [the me­dia] do sob sto­ries about fam­i­lies that are sep­a­rated be­cause a drunk-driv­ing fa­ther is de­ported, okay, but there are plenty of vic­tim sto­ries among Amer­i­cans, too.”

In­side DHS, ca­reer of­fi­cials at Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment are said to be re­lieved by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new guide­lines, said one ca­reer of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal mat­ters.

The of­fi­cial said the staff used to joke wryly that Obama’s poli­cies amounted to “pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­cre­tion by news con­fer­ence,” mean­ing de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings against im­mi­grants would be dropped based on the amount of neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity the cases got from ad­vo­cacy groups.

“There was a great sense of frus­tra­tion among agents and of­fi­cers that even when we were clearly in the right we were not al­lowed to ro­bustly de­fend our­selves at times we felt we should,” the of­fi­cial said.

The num­ber of de­por­ta­tions, which had peaked un­der Obama at the end of his first term, fell sharply dur­ing his sec­ond as the ad­min­is­tra­tion im­ple­mented poli­cies tar­get­ing en­force­ment ac­tions against hard­ened crim­i­nals and those who had re­cently ar­rived in the coun­try.

Last week, DHS took the first step to­ward a more ro­bust publicre­la­tions strat­egy as man­dated by Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, pub­lish­ing a list of 206 lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions — to be up­dated weekly — that re­fused to de­tain jailed im­mi­grants beyond their re­lease dates so that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment could take them into cus­tody and try to de­port them.

The move to name and shame the ju­ris­dic­tions is aimed at putting pub­lic pres­sure on them to co­op­er­ate — es­pe­cially sanc­tu­ary cities that do not want im­mi­grants to fear the po­lice or be de­ported for mi­nor traf­fic of­fenses. Trump has threat­ened to with­hold some fed­eral funds from such cities.

John Sandweg, for­mer act­ing di­rec­tor of ICE, re­jected the no­tion that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was le­nient on crim­i­nal im­mi­grants. Rather, he said, the num­ber that had com­mit­ted se­ri­ous of­fenses, such as mur­der, rape, be­ing in­volved in drug deals or driv­ing while in­tox­i­cated, was rel­a­tively small.

“When we had broader [en­force­ment] pri­or­i­ties, we were snatch­ing up a lot of non­pub­lic safety threats but burn­ing a lot of re­sources,” Sandweg said. Trump is “try­ing to mis­lead the pub­lic into think­ing that 11 mil­lion peo­ple are a threat. That’s not true. It’s a very small sub­set that are a threat. The way to en­hance pub­lic safety the most is to keep ICE fo­cused on that small per­cent­age.”

In­stead, Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pand the pool of im­mi­grants that are con­sid­ered pri­or­i­ties for re­moval, a strat­egy, crit­ics said, to help the pres­i­dent more eas­ily boost de­por­ta­tions and ful­fill his cam­paign prom­ises.

“We are go­ing to get the bad ones out — the crim­i­nals and the drug deal­ers and gangs and gang mem­bers and car­tel lead­ers,” Trump said dur­ing his visit to DHS. But his crit­ics pre­dicted ICE will be­gin tar­get­ing those with out­stand­ing re­moval or­ders based on rel­a­tively mi­nor in­frac­tions or those check­ing in with pa­role of­fi­cers.

“If the facts were aligned with what they say about the crim­i­nal­ity of im­mi­grants, they wouldn’t have to play up th­ese hor­ri­ble anec­dotes,” said Alex Nowrasteh, a co-au­thor of the Cato im­mi­gra­tion crime re­port. “I see it as a po­lit­i­cal tac­tic to sup­port a pol­icy agenda. It’s pol­i­cy­mak­ing by fear, not fact.”

Trump is “try­ing to mis­lead the pub­lic into think­ing that 11 mil­lion peo­ple are a threat. That’s not true.” John Sandweg, for­mer ICE of­fi­cial

ROBYN BECK/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Men wear­ing neon-col­ored suits sig­ni­fy­ing im­mi­gra­tion de­tainees pick up lunches at the Theo Lacy Fa­cil­ity, a county jail in Orange, Calif. DHS last week pub­lished a list of 206 ju­ris­dic­tions that re­fused to de­tain jailed im­mi­grants beyond their re­lease dates so that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment could try to de­port them.

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