August 8, 2010 | Commentary on Immigration
The death of a Catholic nun and the serious injury of two elderly nuns in Virginia is more than just a tragedy. It’s the inevitable outcome of the Obama administration’s immigration policy — offering selective amnesty for many illegal aliens while spending tax money on pampering those who break our laws with relative impunity.
Carlos Montano, the drunken driver who crossed the center line and slammed head-on into the nuns’ car, already had two convictions for DUI. He had also been arrested or cited for reckless driving, speeding, and public drunkenness. Officials in Prince William County, Virginia, had previously notified the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about Montano. But Montano, an illegal alien, was released by ICE on his own recognizance pending deportation proceedings.
An anonymous immigration official at DHS told the Washington Post that Montano’s two prior DUI convictions were not “enough to warrant detention.” That may be the current policy of the Obama administration, but lawyers familiar with the Justice Department’s procedures for immigration and deportation proceedings tell me that is “absolutely not true.” It was common for ICE in the past to detain aliens with two DUI convictions, especially when they had no obvious basis to legalize their status in the United States (such as being married to a U.S. citizen).
And there is no evidence whatsoever in the public record that Montano has any legal basis to remain in the United States. The lawyers told me that aliens like Montano are frequently brought before immigration judges to decide whether the person is a threat to public safety and should be detained. If the immigration judge decides they are not, the judge can still set a bond rather than release the alien on his own recognizance based on the alien’s flight risk.
Montano would have warranted a high bond, and might have had bond denied if DHS had argued to the judge that he should not be released because of the two DUI convictions. Normally, such detainee cases are also brought up very quickly before immigration judges. Yet in this case, DHS apparently didn’t even hold Montano and bring him before an immigration judge when local authorities in Prince William County referred him to DHS.
Instead, ICE simply released Montano on his own recognizance despite the prior convictions. ICE’s requirement that Montano report to ICE on a monthly basis did nothing to keep him from drinking and driving again and killing a nun and seriously injuring two others. On the other hand, if Montano had remained detained in ICE custody until he was ordered removed from the country, he wouldn’t have been out on the streets and could not have harmed anyone.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano reportedly ordered an investigation into why “the removal proceedings [were] taking so long.” But that’s the intentionally wrong question designed to shift responsibility form DHS.
The real question: why was this illegal alien released to await removal proceedings instead of being held by ICE and DHS at one of their detention facilities? Answering that question requires no investigation — that is the very policy on the “apprehension, detention, and removal of aliens” instituted by Secretary Napolitano and President Obama.
This policy was formalized in a June 30, 2010, memorandum from ICE Director John Morton to all ICE employees. The priority of ICE, as outlined in the memo, is to remove certain “violent” criminals and essentially to ignore “non-violent” criminals and other illegal aliens. The memo makes no reference to aliens convicted of DUI and other such serious offenses, and there is no statement that such aliens remain a priority.
My sources tell me that this vague memo has created much confusion among ICE law enforcement personnel and will lead to much less focus on enforcement. It abuses “prosecutorial discretion” to order ICE employees to look the other way on most illegal aliens. It may also lead to other problems, such as liberal, activist, federal circuit court judges citing the memo as a basis for not affirming deportation orders against aliens who don’t fit the very limited criteria of “violent” criminals spelled out in the memo.
It essentially gives a de facto administrative amnesty to all other illegal aliens who are caught by ICE or arrested or detained by local and state police officials — including supposedly “non-violent” criminals such as Carlos Montano, whose prior history of DUI, public drunkenness, speeding, and reckless driving would not make him a “priority” for removal under John Morton’s memo. Neither would con men, thieves, burglars, robbers, and all of the other criminals who are supposedly not “violent” enough to warrant the administration’s attention.
With policies like this, it’s not surprising that the ICE employees union has no confidence in Morton’s leadership. Council 118 of the American Federation of Government Employees that represents about 7,000 ICE workers has accused Morton of abandoning the core enforcement mission of ICE to instead implement an amnesty program.
Worse, Morton justifies the Obama administration’s policy based on “the limited enforcement resources” that ICE supposedly has available. Of course, that didn’t prevent ICE from making plans to change the conditions at many of its detainee facilities at almost the same time as the June 30 memo. Internal ICE emails sent in May direct that changes be made within 30 days at nine detention facilities operated under contract to ICE by Corrections Corporation of America.
Those changes, which read like they were inspired by Martha Stewart, were proudly trumpeted to the Houston Chronicle by Beth Gibson, a senior counselor to Morton. They include the following:
– Soften the look for the facility with hanging plants, flower baskets, new paint color … wall graphics and framed pictures on the walls, and enhance the aesthetics of the living areas.
– Expand programming for detainees to include movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance, walk and exercise classes, health and welfare classes, basic cooking classes, tutoring, and self-paced computer training on portable computer stations.
– Provide celebrations of special occasions and allow … a detainee to receive outside packaged food for celebrations.
– Provide fresh carrot sticks and celery or other vegetables in a bar format.
– Provide self-serve beverage bars.
– Offer water and tea in the housing area at all times.
– Provide a unit manager so detainees have someone available to talk to and to solve problems in the facility other than the immediate guard.
– Survey community-based immigration advocacy groups and immigration attorneys for suggestions that may improve communication and ease of access.
The email also directed an increase in legal supplies, postage for legal correspondence, and research resources at the law libraries; elimination of lockdowns and “pat down searches” of “noncriminals”; providing “non-penal clothing for detainees to wear”; email access and Internet-based free phone service; and “four hours or more … of recreation in a natural setting.”
All of this is in accord with another leaked memorandum from the Citizenship and Immigrations Services agency at DHS. That memorandum proposes that the administration circumvent existing immigration law and grant permanent residence to many illegal aliens, or allow aliens who should be deported to remain in the country by granting them “parole-in-place,” a euphemism for ignoring the law.
The bottom line here is pretty clear.
The political appointees who run the federal agency that is charged with enforcing our immigration laws and deporting illegal aliens like Carlos Montano are more interested in providing administrative amnesty and legal assistance to illegal aliens. They also care more about converting federal detention facilities to “an all-inclusive resort” as Tre Rebstock, president of the ICE union in Houston, told the Houston Chronicle.
ICE supposedly has only “limited enforcement resources” available. Yet it seems to have no problem spending its limited resources to provide illegal aliens with beverage bars and movie nights, hanging plants and flower baskets, portable computers and Internet access, and celebrations for special occasions — like perhaps successfully evading deportation and federal immigration laws?
Too bad that the numerous American citizens who have been killed, injured, robbed, and assaulted by illegal aliens, or who bear the enormous cost of public services extended to such aliens, won’t have access to the same types of facilities that they have paid for with their taxes.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
First appeared in Pajamas Media