A political drama is being played out in the Los Angeles criminal-justice system, and the outcome will affect the lives of citizens all over California. In fact, citizens all across the nation will be affected.
On Aug. 3, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposed memorandum of understanding between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the federal Department of Homeland Security. If the memorandum is adopted by the county, six sheriff’s deputies will be trained and deputized by the federal department to identify illegal aliens within the county jail system, so they can be deported to their countries of origin.
Homeland Security officials in Los Angeles have stated that the department has the manpower to screen only 10 percent to 12 percent of the county’s jail population. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has estimated that 25 percent of the 170,000 inmates who pass through the system each year are illegal aliens. This means that more than 40,000 criminals who go through the county jail system each year are illegal aliens and subject to deportation if properly identified.
Without the proposed memorandum, 90 percent of those 40,000 inmates will be released back into the community when their jail term is up.
Baca negotiated this arrangement with the Department of Homeland Security under prodding from county supervisors, who have been critical of the federal government for not doing its job in deporting criminal felons who prey on innocent citizens. This new arrangement seems like a win-win bargain for everyone.
Who could possibly be opposed to sending criminal aliens back to their country of origin? Well, it seems some of the county officials are getting cold feet because of opposition from certain organizations calling themselves activists and from immigration lawyers. This seems strange even by California standards. Is there any aspect of law enforcement that isn’t subject to special-interest pleadings?
There are two reasons why not only Angelenos but also people outside the county should be concerned about the fate of this proposed memorandum. First, without this interagency agreement, thousands of the 40,000 criminals released in Los Angeles this year will not stay in Los Angeles. They will find their way to other California towns and to other places across the nation. They will show up in Bakersfield, Oakland and Redding—and also in Phoenix, Dallas, Nashville and Philadelphia.
The second reason is that the same thing is already happening in other communities. Los Angeles is under a spotlight because the county sheriff and a courageous county supervisor took the first steps toward fixing the problem, and they are now being challenged. However, the same problem exists in jails and prisons all across the country.
The reason frequently given by opponents of cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities is that people will be afraid to cooperate with police in investigations if they fear being questioned about their immigration status. But this can hardly be a legitimate concern in the case of criminals already incarcerated.
That’s why the memorandum of understanding makes such good sense. Other cities and counties should follow this example if they want criminals who came here illegally to be deported. If they want them released back into the local community, they can just do nothing and keep the status quo.
Citizens across America will be watching the deliberations and actions of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 3 when this matter comes up for a vote. But the citizens of Los Angeles should be doing more than merely watching. People in Los Angeles should be demanding that their county officials serve the public instead of special interests.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Phoenix and Dallas and Chicago should look into what is happening to the several hundred thousand criminal aliens within their own jails and state prisons. Unless something is changed, many of those same criminals will be visiting a shopping mall, a convenience store or a parking lot near you.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., is chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.