Sept. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

The Day Immigration Reform Died | Commentary

The recent revelation that the Obama administration had released more than 36,000 illegal immigrants who had been convicted of other crimes should be the brightest red flag yet for those who claim to want to improve the laws that supposedly protect our borders.

That the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency freed the prisoners is further proof of a move toward backdoor amnesty for illegal immigrants. The occasion of the publication of that information could well come to be known as the day immigration reform died.

President Barack Obama is notoriously impatient with the constraints placed on his powers by the Constitution and the Congress, a trait which ought to give pause to any supporter of so-called immigration reform. His is an administration that broadly claims executive authority, particularly with regard to immigration laws, exercises its own discretion in enforcing some existing laws and shows complete disregard for others.

The news from ICE was shocking in its scope. The thousands of illegal immigrants released from custody had been found guilty of a total of almost 88,000 crimes, including 116 homicides, 43 counts of voluntary manslaughter and one classified as “homicide-willful kill-public official-gun.” Throw in thousands of drunken driving convictions and other crimes, and the picture is clear that these inmates were not simply in custody for their most basic crime: being illegally present in this country. Yet they were released into the neighborhoods of America, supposedly having paid their debt to our society and sent along their way. This should be appalling to anyone who cares about the rule of law or public safety.

A statement of explanation from ICE — since edited following its initial release — does little to clear the air if one is willing to look a little deeper. The agency said some of the inmates had already served their criminal sentences, others were released at ICE’s discretion based on their offenses, and still others were freed in compliance with a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring release after six months. The last claim laying blame on the high court begs greater scrutiny.

As pointed out by National Review, it is true that the Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas v. Davis that the federal government can detain illegal immigrants for up to six months before deporting them, but after that must usually release them if there is “no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future.” In many cases, the reason there is no “likelihood of removal” is that the illegal immigrant’s home country has refused to take back its nationals. The Boston Globe reported that more than 20 countries, “from Jamaica to China routinely block deportation of their citizens.”

The explanation from the Obama administration would end there with the blame falling on foreign governments, if not for an inconvenient federal law. In cases exactly like this situation, the State Department is required to stop issuing new visas for citizens of countries which have blocked the deportation of their nationals. Obama’s State Department, formerly run by Hillary Rodham Clinton and now led by John Kerry, has done no such thing. In fact, former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the House Judiciary Committee in 2011 that she was unaware of any actions the administration had taken against countries which had refused the return of their deported citizens.

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