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No unfunded mandates. Respect for federalism. Strengthening the rule of law. Holding lawbreakers accountable. What's not to love?

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Pass the CLEAR Act

No unfunded mandates. Respect for federalism. Strengthening the rule of law. Holding lawbreakers accountable. What’s not to love?

The open-borders crowd is attacking long-overdue legislation. Yet, their arguments against the CLEAR Act fall apart when held up to sunlight. The Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act (CLEAR), sponsored by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R.-Ga.) and 120 bipartisan cosponsors, seeks to address an existing problem that state and local law enforcement face. Federal authorities continue the pre-9/11 practice of turning a blind eye toward illegal and criminal aliens caught locally. Every day throughout the nation, immigration authorities’ laxity toward known lawbreakers places police in the position of knowingly putting lawbreakers back on our streets. Why would anyone oppose the enforcement of our laws against illegal and criminal aliens? First, open-borders advocates claim the CLEAR Act would drain local government’s resources. In fact, HR 2671 would provide more resources to state and local law enforcement agencies that choose to help secure the homeland. In cases where fines are imposed or assets forfeited, the local police department gets half the amount. This is like sharing criminals’ assets in federal-local drug busts. Local agencies would be eligible for a number of federal grants, such as the existing State Criminal Alien Assistance Program or new grants the bill would establish. CLEAR would set up grants for housing and processing illegal and criminal aliens. And it gives local agencies a way to hold the feds accountable for not cooperating when they call for help, including the possibility of a fine. Second, a plausible-sounding “talking point” asserts that CLEAR would disrupt community policing in immigrant neighborhoods. But in fact, CLEAR preserves discretion for police officers, detectives and prosecutors. If you have faith in our system of government, our law enforcers’ professionalism, our justice system, then you must give greater weight to the fact that the system works. Police take anonymous tips from informants. They would have no reason to question a witness or victim coming forward to report a crime about the witness’s or victim’s immigration status, in the interest of going after the larger crime. And nothing in the bill suggests that police should question witnesses or victims about their immigration status. Third, opponents claim CLEAR would force all state and local police to take on immigration enforcement. In fact, the bill would only require federal authorities to close the loop when willing police agencies happen upon illegal aliens in the normal course of officers’ duties and call it in. The feds, not the locals, would overhaul their practices. To rebut other false claims about CLEAR with facts:

  • No, immigration violations are not merely civil violations; nearly all are crimes, but are often put into civil instead of criminal proceedings due to the high costs of criminal proceedings.
  • No, Congress doesn’t have to grant states authority to enforce all federal immigration laws; they inherently possess that authority as sovereigns under our federal system.
  • No, actually most police agencies support CLEAR. The bill has the endorsement of law enforcement organizations such as the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, the Southern States Police Benevolence Association and Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement. While “police politicians” in several big cities may oppose it, untold thousands of rank and file officers and many local police organizations back it.

By clarifying legal authority, improving two-way information-sharing and providing more resources, the CLEAR Act will give police officers trying to do their jobs the help and cooperation from immigration authorities that they need and want. At its core, the CLEAR Act is about local empowerment. For the first time in decades, any city or county that wants to free up its jobs, housing, schools, streets and services by cracking down on illegal residents will have the tools to do so with the required cooperation of the federal government. Open-border advocates argue that amnesties are the only alternatives for illegal aliens because there is no way to make them go home. But the same open-borders advocates oppose the CLEAR Act precisely because it would effectively empower local communities to punish illegal aliens. Opponents of CLEAR should at least be truthful about the bill and about their actual, open-borders agenda. No unfunded mandates. Respect for federalism. Strengthening the rule of law. Holding lawbreakers accountable. What’s not to love about the CLEAR Act?

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James Edwards is coauthor of "The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform."

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