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Immigration has no correlation to crime or terrorism in the US

Last week President Trump threatened to withdraw Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection personnel from the State of California because of the “lousy management job” by state and local officials in enforcing the Nation’s immigration laws.

In issuing this dramatic statement the president overstated the public safety threat posed by undocumented and unauthorized immigrants. He ignored more serious threats facing the nation, demonstrated a remarkable level of ignorance of how our immigration laws are actually enforced, and sought to demonize state and local law enforcement officials.

{mosads}President Trump claimed that if ICE agents were withdrawn from California, “you would see crime like nobody has seen in this country.” This is consistent with other recent statements by administration officials suggesting that immigration — and specifically illegal immigration — is a driving force behind crime and terrorism impacting the U.S.


This simply is not accurate. One only has to look at incarceration rates, objective studies of criminal behavior and recent terrorism threat assessments to understand that immigrants, even those here illegally are not responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime and mass casualty attacks in the U.S.

In fact, immigrants (regardless of citizenship status) are less likely to engage in violent criminal activity then those born and raised in the U.S.

Studies of the ICE Secure Communities Program reveal that aggressive enforcement of our immigration laws has no appreciable impact on local crime rate.

In addition, when examining terrorism related incidents and other mass casualty attacks, the overwhelming majority of the perpetrators of these attacks were individuals born in the U.S.

The president seems to believe that immigration enforcement is a responsibility equally shared by federal, state and local authorities. Again, this is not accurate. 

Immigration enforcement is exclusively a federal responsibility. In fact, without being federally “deputized,” state and local law enforcement personnel have no authority to detain and incarcerate individuals solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws.

It is not the responsibility of state and local authorities to enforce our immigration laws. The primary responsibility of state and local law enforcement officials is to protect their communities from crime and violence regardless of whether the criminal is an immigrant or native born.

To be effective they must focus on their activities on those who actually commit crime. They also need to build lines of communication with members of the public — even those that live in immigrant communities.

Diverting their attention from actual crime and effective crime prevention strategies simply to support the anti-immigration agenda of the administration would distract them from their primary mission and make our communities less safe.

For over 32 years I have had the honor to work with federal, state and local law enforcement professionals to protect our nation from crime and national security threats.

I have put my life on the line and worked with countless others who have as well. I am confident that state, county and local officials view it as their sacred duty to work with Federal authorities to investigate gangs, arrest violent criminals and stop terrorist and other mass casualty attacks.

But these same state, county, and local officials have to work under the state and local laws that govern their behavior. To suggest that state and local officials are unwilling to detain individuals on behalf of ICE because they want to protect violent criminals is inaccurate and insulting to the hundreds of thousands of state and local officers who put their life on the line daily to protect our communities.

It is important to note that for many jurisdictions, holding an individual in custody solely based on an ICE civil detainer could potentially subject that jurisdiction to civil liability.

In an effort to foster cooperation with their federal partners a number of local jurisdictions have asked ICE to provide a court order akin to an “arrest warrant” so that these localities can hold an individual for ICE without getting sued — a request that so far ICE has been reluctant to put into widespread practice.

I understand that for this administration, immigration and immigration enforcement is a political priority. I also understand that the threat to withdraw ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from California may have been nothing more than political theater.

I most definitely agree that it should be a top priority for all law enforcement officials across the nation to work together to prevent crime and violence in our communities irrespective of whether it comes from the actions of an illegal/legal immigrant or native-born person.

While demonizing state and local officials and embellishing the threat posed by illegal immigrants may gratify the president’s political base, it also undermines and erodes the very operational relationships that are vital to protecting our communities from violence.

Furthermore, it distracts us from dealing with the serious threats actually facing the U.S. such as: mass attacks casualty attacks by disaffected individuals such as those recently experienced in Parkland, Florida, Sutherland Springs, Texas and Las Vegas; protecting our elections from interference by hostile foreign nations; dealing with violent extremism and international terrorism; and addressing the deadly opioid crisis.

John Cohen is a professor at Rutgers University. He has worked on law enforcement and homeland security issues for over 32 years, in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He has served as a police officer and as the acting Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis and Counterterrorism Coordinator at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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