Jim Hartman: Crime and our porous southern border

Criminals are taking advantage of the porous nature of our southern border and people are dying as a result.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that the most persistent Mexican illegal immigrant managed to get deported 44 times in 15 years. A second was ousted 40 times from 2001 to 2015. Nos. 3, 4 and 5 on the list were deported 35, 34 and 31 times, respectively.

A list of heinous crimes attributed to repeat illegal immigrants is long. The most notorious is the 2015 slaying of Kate Steinle by Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, who had been deported five times before he found himself on the San Francisco waterfront with a gun in his hands.

In Douglas County, Nevada, a previously deported illegal immigrant, Jose Rodriquez-Quezada, was indicted for a brutal October 2017 murder where the victim had been stabbed or slashed 30 times in a Stateline hotel room.

In Southern Nevada, federal criminal charges were filed in March against four MS-13 members from El Salvador who police say are responsible for 10 killings during the last year in and around Las Vegas. Attorney General Jeff Sessions blames lax U.S. immigration laws for allowing deported members of MS-13 to return to the U.S.

A study by the Crime Prevention Research Center, using data from Arizona that detailed criminal convictions, found illegal immigrants between 15 and 35 are less than 3 percent of the population, but nearly 8 percent of its prison population. These findings challenge the general narrative that immigrants commit fewer crimes, with past studies usually not making distinctions between legal and illegal populations.

President Donald Trump has touted a “big, beautiful border wall” for nearly three years. His rhetorical bombast and focus on the design specifics for “a wall” has politicized issues related to border security. All sides used to agree on the efficacy of border fencing, beginning with the bipartisan 2006 Secure Fence Act, which called for a total of 700 miles of two-tier fencing. Even as late as 2013, the Senate called for completing the 700 miles of fencing—with all Senate Democrats voting for it.

Still lacking from the Trump administration is a comprehensive strategy. The Border Patrol is struggling to meet minimum staffing levels mandated by Congress and is losing more agents per year than it hires. Congress requires a force of 21,370 agents, but the Border Patrol has only 19,500. Similarly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has 20,000 employees in 400 offices around the country. They need an estimated 2,000 more officers.

The Homeland Security “E-Verify” website, allowing businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, is underutilized with states like Illinois and California restricting its use. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, tracking non-citizens in the U.S., ended in 2016.

The backlog in the immigration courts is approaching 700,000 cases, up from fewer than 225,000 in 2009. This backlog of deportation cases is swamping the nation’s immigration judges. 75 new immigration judges and 338 new federal attorneys are needed to prosecute these cases.

On March 24, Trump signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that included $1.57 billion for construction of physical barriers on the southern border for fencing. No funding was provided for Trump’s border wall. The measure only modestly bumped up funding for both U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including hiring of 328 more Border Patrol agents.

Critics derided the immigration funding as meager and insufficient. It’s certainly a far cry from the $25 billion proposed by Trump for a border wall.

Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa, Nevada.

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