Illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes must be deported

August 20, 2007|By CYNTHIA TUCKER

ATLANTA -- Even in a city like Newark, N.J., where violent Saturday nights are routine, these chilling murders stood out. When three college-age friends were lined up in a schoolyard, forced to their knees and shot in the back of the head Aug. 4, the city was stunned. (A fourth was shot but survived.) Indeed, the killings made international headlines.

Days later, an illegal immigrant from Peru named Jose Carranza turned himself in to Newark Mayor Cory Booker; police have charged him and others with multiple counts, including murder, in the case. Mr. Carranza was the leader of a violent crew of thugs, some barely old enough for high school, who terrorized their neighborhood for years, neighbors told The New York Times. Though Mr. Carranza had recently been indicted in the serial sexual assault of a 5-year-old - and previously indicted over a barroom brawl - he was free on bail. (That decision, too, deserves review.)

Of all the failures of the immigration bureaucracy, none has been more profound - or more harmful - than the carelessness toward those who entered the country illegally and then committed violent crimes. If immigration authorities wanted to turn Americans against undocumented workers, they could hardly do better than to allow felons to remain in the country, where they can kill and rob and maim again and again.

Career criminals are rare among the population of illegal immigrants. Most are law-abiding, hardworking family folk whose only infraction has been crossing a border illegally to find work. (A first-time illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor.) Some commit other minor offenses, often related to driving without proper documents. Most strive to stay out of trouble.

They are far more likely to be victims of crime than criminal offenders. Frequently paid in cash but lacking the papers necessary to open bank accounts, they are targeted by robbers who know their victims are unlikely to go to the police. In DeKalb County, Ga., police have started an outreach program to try to get immigrants to turn to law enforcement authorities when they've been victims of a crime. That makes sense.

But so does a new approach by authorities in Georgia's Cobb County. Working with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), the Cobb sheriff's department has trained several deputies to begin deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants who break the law. Although ICE agents don't have the resources to deport those guilty of minor offenses, public pressure may force them to deport violent offenders.

For decades, the feds have been cavalier about criminals here illegally. A Government Accountability Office study in 2005 found that illegal immigrants jailed in this country, on average, are arrested eight times before being deported. Los Angeles County authorities say that more than 20 percent of the offenders who pass through their crowded jails are undocumented. In Roswell, Ga., police chief Edwin Williams has sent ICE inquiries about suspected illegal immigrants in his jail for a decade. He has faxed in more than 10,000 names. Federal agents have picked up a handful.

With the murder rate rising in city after city, we can't afford to import more criminals.

Besides, the worst thing that can happen to the cause of immigration reform is to allow the Jose Carranzas to breed more hysteria and fear, more bigotry and stereotyping. Already, hard-line opponents of illegal immigration, including CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, have used the Newark murders to ramp up the fear factor. Those who advocate a path to citizenship for the vast majority of illegal immigrants - people who have worked hard and stayed out of trouble - ought to be pushing immigration authorities to deport the hoodlums.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is cynthia@ajc.com.

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