The Birmingham News: A leading Congressional opponent of Alabama's immigration law said Thursday that federal law enforcement officials are not yet following their own policy to concentrate first on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records.
As proof, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., cited the case of a 19-year-old illegal immigrant who has been held in an Alabama jail for three days on a traffic violation. She has no criminal record, her husband and child are U.S. citizens and she was brought to the country when she was 12.
"She's the gold standard for prosecutorial discretion," Gutierrez said on Capitol Hill Thursday, arguing that federal immigration officials should order her release.
Gutierrez brought the Alabama case to the attention of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a closed-door meeting Thursday with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Napolitano has testified to Congress previously that her agency, which includes the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, would not help implement Alabama's state law that requires local police and sheriffs to identify, detain and refer all illegal immigrants for deportation.
"I think she is doing everything she believes possible to make that a reality, yes," Gutierrez said.
Napolitano declined to comment after the meeting in the basement of the U.S. Capitol.
Gutierrez said he was assured during the meeting that Napolitano is committed to the policy that the country focus its limited resources on deporting those with criminal histories instead of those who were brought to the country as minors, have not committed other crimes and have immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens. The policy calling for discretion by ICE agents was first outlined by the top ICE official this summer. Some have criticized it as a backdoor amnesty; others, including Gutierrez, say it is not being consistently enforced.
"We see it working but it's not working well enough," he said. "Here's our goal: When someone is arrested and they pay their fine for driving without a license or missing a tail light or whatever driving infraction, that when the sheriff calls over (to ICE) and says, 'I got somebody for driving without a license,' the answer is, 'Call me when you've got something more important.' If the sheriff says, 'I got somebody on robbery, rape or drugs,' then the answer is, 'We'll be right over.'"
Gutierrez said ICE still is training its agents on the discretion policy.
Napolitano has said the government has the agents and resources to deport about 400,000 people a year, a fraction of the 11 million people estimated to be in the United States without permission.
A separate federal agency, the Department of Justice, is suing to have the law declared unconstitutional. Some portions of the law have been delayed by federal judges, and the business community and the Alabama attorney general are recommending that the law be amended when the Legislature returns next year.
Gutierrez has visited Alabama twice in recent weeks, rallying activists against the immigration law who argue it is breaking up families, scaring school children, and damaging the state's economy and image.
Proponents of the law say it was not intended to lead to a massive dragnet and deportation of illegal immigrants, but that it was supposed to make it more difficult for them to live and work in the state.
However, opponents such as the League of United Latin American Citizens said it does not take into account contributions immigrants have made to the state's economy. The league called on auto manufacturers and other large employers based out of the state to reconsider investments in Alabama, saying Alabama is "a state with the harshest anti-immigration laws in the country and the poster child for intolerance."