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ICYMI: Must-Read New York Times Editorial Makes Sense of “Immigration Frenzy”

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Today, the New York Times editorial board criticizes opportunistic politicians like Donald Trump who are trying to politicize a family and a city’s tragedy.

As Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail attempt to politicize the Kathryn Steinle murder, they obfuscate the facts about immigration confidentiality policies and federal law.  They also spread the false notion that immigrants are criminals, sparking a round of solidarity and outrage from the Latino community pushing back against this stereotype.  Facts are, immigrants have lower rates of criminality than native-born Americans, unauthorized migration has sharply declined, state and local confidentiality policies exist to protect crime victims – not criminals; and the border has never been more secure.

The editorial, titled “Lost in the Immigration Frenzy, follows below:

“Kathryn Steinle was killed on a pier in San Francisco on July 1, allegedly by a troubled immigrant who had a stolen gun and a long criminal history and had been deported five times.  The shooting was inexplicable, yet Ms. Steinle’s family and friends have been shunning talk of politics and vengeance, while expressing the hope that some good might emerge from this tragedy.

The shooting has turned the usual American tensions over immigration into a frenzy.  The accused, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, has become the dark-skinned face of the Mexican killers that Donald Trump — in a racist speech announcing his presidential campaign, and numerous interviews thereafter — has been warning the nation about.

Others in the race and in Congress have eagerly joined him in exploiting the crime, proposing bills to punish ‘sanctuary cities,’ like San Francisco, that discourage local involvement in immigration enforcement, and to force them to cooperate with the federal government in an ever-wider, harsher deportation dragnet.

Mr. Lopez-Sanchez was a repeat illegal border-crosser with a drug record, but he somehow ended up back on the street.  His case led to epic rounds of blame-shifting last week, as the various government agencies that had Mr. Lopez-Sanchez in their custody at some point — like the San Francisco sheriff’s office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — tried to explain why this wasn’t their fault.  Right-wing commenters and politicians, shamelessly willing to scapegoat 11 million unauthorized immigrants as a criminal class and national-security threat, were pointing fingers at anyone and everyone, from President Obama on down.

Lost in the screaming were the sound reasons that cities and localities shun the role of immigration enforcers.  They are balancing public safety with a respect for civil rights and the Constitution.  San Francisco had received an ICE request, called a detainer, to hold Mr. Lopez-Sanchez, but detainers are unconstitutional; a person can’t be held without charge just for ICE’s convenience.  Turning the local police and sheriff’s deputies into de facto ICE agents heightens fear and distrust in immigrant communities, which makes fighting crime harder.

Lost, too, is the truth that immigrants are by no definition a population of criminals.  A report published last week by the American Immigration Council found that immigrants — whether legal or unauthorized, and no matter their country of origin or education level — are less likely to be criminals than native-born Americans, that periods of high immigration correspond with lower crime rates, and that this has been true in this country as long as this issue has been studied.

Separating real threats from the harmless, productive majority of immigrants has long been a challenge.  For years the Obama administration made the problem worse through a misguided program of local-level immigration policing called Secure Communities.  It became a dragnet, shredding trust between residents and the local police in immigrant communities. Over time, hundreds of jurisdictions refused to participate.

The Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, last fall announced his plan to replace Secure Communities with a new Priority Enforcement Program, which would only seek custody of immigrants convicted of certain serious crimes, and only by asking the local authorities to notify ICE about their imminent release.  If the program had been in place in San Francisco earlier in the year, a phone call might have kept Mr. Lopez-Sanchez off the streets.

The Priority Enforcement Program needs to work with cities and law-enforcement agencies across the board — to reassure those that are rightly wary of ICE and to restrain those that are only too eager to overreach and abuse their power.  But with strong protections against racial profiling, it could strike the balance.  ‘It’s irresponsible,’ Mr. Johnson told The Times, ‘not to have some sort of program or protocol by which we work with local sheriffs and police chiefs to transfer dangerous criminals who are undocumented to us.’”