Conservative Trio: Don't Make Cops Arrest Illegals

A trio of conservatives is objecting to the proposed CLEAR Act, which would empower local police to arrest criminal aliens and illegal aliens who are flouting deportation orders. Meanwhile, conservatives in the Senate moved to back the measure. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.) and Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.) last week introduced the Homeland Security Enhancement Act, the Senate-version of the CLEAR Act (HR 2671), which was introduced earlier this year in the House by Rep. Charlie Norwood (Ga.). The bill has 111 House co-sponsors, including House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.). In October, the Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on it. CLEAR will set up a database including the names of 80,000 criminal aliens and 400,000 absconders (illegal aliens flouting deportation orders) that local policemen will be able to access. It also will provide funding for training local police in dealing with immigration offenders, and reimburse localities for the cost of arresting and detaining these offenders. On September 22, American Conservative Union President David Keene, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and former Rep. Bob Barr (R.-Ga.) sent a letter to President Bush attacking the bill as contrary to the conservative principle of federalism. “The legislation forces state and local law enforcement personnel to enforce federal immigration laws. It starts the United States on a path towards establishing a National Police Force,” they wrote. “We are convinced that should the CLEAR Act become law, it will set a dangerous precedent with regard to the authority of state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce civil violations of many federal laws.” In reality, the bill reclassifies immigration violations as criminal acts. In response to an inquiry from HUMAN EVENTS, Norwood said the Keene-Norquist-Barr letter mischaracterizes his bill. “The fact is, the CLEAR Act doesn’t force anyone to do anything—it’s absolutely, completely voluntary. So when it passes and is signed into law, the cities that want to give their law enforcement folks the access to data, funding, and training to enforce immigration laws during the course of their normal, everyday duties can do just that,” he said. The bill does deny federal funds under the Immigration and Nationality Act from states that do not pass a law explicitly authorizing their police to enforce immigration law. The bill’s language reaffirms “the existing general authority” of state and local agencies to enforce immigration law. “Our nation’s 600,000 local and state law enforcement officers already have the authority to enforce immigration laws,” said Norwood. But some libertarian legal experts disagree. Florida and Alabama have already authorized local police to enforce immigration law. Craig Nelsen, executive director of Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement (FILE), noted, “Local law enforcement already enforces a lot of federal laws, such as drug laws.” Barr told HUMAN EVENTS there is nothing stopping state and local police from detaining illegal aliens now. But, he said, “That’s very different from outright making state police responsible for enforcing federal law. Immigration is the sole province of the federal government.” He argued that the CLEAR Act violated the principles of federalism and, by making state and local officials co-responsible for immigration law, will provide “another excuse for the federal government not to do its job.” “Once you open the door to something like this,” he said, “it inexorably leads to more money and more requirements.”