|Policy is a deadly threat|
|Written by Gary Blankinship|
Last month Houston Mayor Bill White said the federal government "let us down" after Wilfido Joel Alfaro - an illegal immigrant with three recent drug arrests - shot Houston police officer Rick Salter in the face while Salter was executing a drug search warrant.As of this writing, Salter remains in Ben Taub Hospital with critical wounds. "We can't deport people," White explained. "That is the job of the federal government, and we're calling on the federal government to do their job."
To be sure, Mr. Mayor, the Houston Police Officers Union joins you in urging Washington to live up to its clear responsibilities; but today we also are calling on you, along with Gov. Rick Perry and other state and local leaders, to finally recognize state and local governments also have a vitally important and necessary role to play in addressing illegal immigration.
It's time for you to do your job as well. For starters, you should amend or scrap the 17-year-old Houston Police Department policy (General Order No. 500-5), which firmly states that "officers shall not inquire as to the citizenship status of any person, nor will officers detain or arrest any persons solely on the belief that they are in this country illegally." It is outrageous to learn that, as recently as November of last year, you were fully aware that thousands of illegal immigrants eligible for deportation - all convicted felons like Joel Alfaro - were slipping through Houston's jails undetected by federal immigration officials.
You rightly noted the city of Houston "can't deport people;" but isn't that particularly true if the city policy you have repeatedly defended intentionally discourages our officers from reporting them? We welcome your new support for the 287(g) program that lets HPD train and coordinate with federal immigration officials - and other new pledges of enhanced resources and cooperation - but you can do more.
We also hope you will act immediately to change Houston's status as a so-called "sanctuary city" as outlined at www.houstontx.gov/moira. "The policy of [Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs] is to encourage access by all persons residing in the city of Houston, regardless of nation of birth or current citizenship status, to the full benefits, opportunities and services which are provided and administered by the city of Houston." Why does this matter?
A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that the 55,322 criminal immigrants they tracked were arrested a total of at least 459,614 times - averaging over eight arrests per immigrant. The Department of Justice conducted its own research and found that the 73 criminal immigrants in their study group were arrested a total of 429 times - or roughly six arrests per immigrant. For all of your good intentions, Mr. Mayor, the question has to be raised if this de facto "sanctuary" policy is attracting habitual criminals like Alfaro - or Juan Quintero, the illegal immigrant who shot and killed HPD officer Rodney Johnson in 2006 - to our community.
Meanwhile, Gov. Perry, county and state leaders like you can, and must, do more as well. When you get right down to it, the integrity of our federal immigration system is largely dependent on the validity of documents issued by our state and county. Every year, hundreds if not thousands of illegal immigrants enter Texas in broad daylight thanks to marriage fraud - to cite one example. For all of your hot rhetoric about border security, governor, you rarely if ever mention the forms of immigration fraud you and the Legislature can actually help fix - and that, too, needs to change.
The bottom line, gentlemen, is that constantly pointing the finger of blame at Washington while kicking this can down the road is no way to fix this problem. Today, more than ever, we need real leadership, hard choices and a proactive new mindset at the state and local level. Right now, our friend and colleague with 27 years of irreplaceable experience and selfless service is fighting for his life - a tragic testament to the failure of current policies.
But if local, county and state leaders treat this as the wake-up call on illegal immigration it surely is, then maybe - maybe - some good will come out of it after all.