We hear a lot of noise these days about immigration, but not a lot of objective information. Let's start with the basics: Immigration is a federal matter, not a local one. Nevertheless, in recent months some Louisiana politicians have grandstanded on the issue of so-called "sanctuary cities," a term that isn't even defined in the law. Even a cursory look at the facts proves the demagogues wrong on virtually every count.
Those who rail against "sanctuary cities" — most notably U.S. Sen. David Vitter and state Attorney General Jeff Landry — claim the term applies to local governments that "refuse to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)." ICE's own records and reports show the opposite, locally and in cities across America.
Each year, law enforcement officers arrest approximately 1 million people suspected of living in the U.S. without legal permission. Identifying them used to be time-consuming and unreliable, until ICE developed a program that lets federal and local authorities share information in real time. Louisiana joined the program, known as IDENT/IAFIS, in November 2009. Under the program, all arrested subjects' fingerprints are transmitted to state and federal databases. When fingerprints match Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration records, ICE is notified and determines if enforcement action is required. This is standard procedure in all states and in all 64 Louisiana parishes.
The latest ICE report on IDENT/IAFIS shows that local law enforcement is doing its part to corral criminal aliens, but the feds are not doing theirs. Between November 2009 and February 2015, Louisiana submitted almost 1.1 million sets of fingerprints to IDENT/IAFIS. Of those, 17,730 were of people arrested on felony charges whose prints matched DHS records for people living in the country illegally. At that point, it was up to ICE to take action. Of the more than 17,000 felony "matches" identified during that period, the feds deported 3,129 — or 17.6 percent — barely one in six.
Locally, Jefferson Parish submitted more than 195,000 sets of prints, triggering 6,960 felony matches — but only 1,104 deportations, or 15.8 percent of the matches. That said, Jefferson accounted for more than 39 percent of the total deportations from Louisiana during that period. New Orleans submitted more than 82,000 prints, yielding 1,492 matches — and 292 deportations, or 19.6 percent of the matches. The key fact here is that the feds, not Orleans or Jefferson, decide whom to deport.
"So when Sen. Vitter and others characterize us as 'sanctuary cities,' they are totally at odds with ICE's own statistics," Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand told Gambit. "The policies that are driving this are federal policies, not local policies." Normand adds that Jefferson's immigrant population is far less likely overall to be involved in criminal activity than the parish's native population. Mayor Mitch Landrieu added, "Local law enforcement works with ICE when there is a criminal warrant; however, local law enforcement cannot do the federal government's immigration enforcement job."
Indeed, based on the federal government's own reports, it appears the real "sanctuary city" in America is Washington, D.C. — because it's Congress, not local communities, that has failed to help ICE do more about people living in the U.S. illegally.