LAPD Chief Tells Officers to Ignore Federal Illegal Immigrant Law

In Los Angeles, where the distinctions between the citizen and the non-citizen are often little more than abstractions, they are one step closer to vanishing altogether.

That such a thing should occur in Los Angeles comes as no surprise to anyone paying even the slightest attention to recent trends in the city’s governance. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is famously sympathetic to the cause of illegal immigrants, and most members of the city council hold similar views. So if the latest assault on the rule of law as it pertains to illegal immigrants in L.A. had sprung from the mind of this or that empty-headed liberal politician, it would scarcely be worth notice other than as cause for regret among the declining number of residents who find such things objectionable.

But this time it’s different. The latest affront to American citizenship and the rule of law comes from Charlie Beck, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who now advocates that officers in his department ignore federal law by declining to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials that some illegal immigrants in LAPD custody be detained for deportation proceedings.

If Beck has his way, illegal immigrants arrested by LAPD officers for crimes the chief considers “petty” will not be held for ICE officers, even if the arrested person is already marked for deportation. This comes only months after the LAPD, at Beck’s urging, altered long-standing policy by making it easier for illegal immigrants — who cannot be issued driver’s licenses in California — to avoid having their cars impounded after being stopped for a traffic violation.

Beck justified this latest proposal by saying that the federal government’s policy of deporting illegal immigrants after arrests for minor crimes has “eroded public trust” in a city where, by Beck’s account, 750,000 illegal immigrants reside. (In 2010, I attended a meeting where Beck put the figure at 600,000. How much more accommodating will he be when the number tops one million? And with the police chief rolling out the welcome mat to anyone with the will and the means to come over the border and settle in L.A., why won’t it?)

The Los Angeles Times characterized the chief’s motives thus:

Beck portrayed the move as necessary to counter federal laws that require local police to share information with federal immigration officials about arrests. (Emphasis added)

Consider: the chief of police in America’s second-largest city has come to the opinion that certain federal laws are inconvenient for a large number of people living illegally in his city, and that therefore his department must enact policies that “counter federal laws.”

This is an obscenity, one that in a more rational city would have civic leaders screaming for the chief’s badge, if not his head. But this is Los Angeles, where one searching for evidence of rationality at city hall will come away disappointed.

In truth, Chief Beck lacks the authority to enact such a policy change on his own. The civilian police commission must endorse the chief’s proposal, something Beck hopes to see accomplished by the end of the year. Before that happens, the commission must air the proposal at at least one public meeting and invite comments from those who might oppose it. Anyone who imagines this to be a hindrance to Beck’s plan surely is not familiar with how things work in Los Angeles.

The five members of the police commission are appointed by the mayor, and are chosen with more regard for checking the correct boxes on the diversity paperwork than they are for any genuine aptitude for the job. They are a political body and can be counted on to do Mayor Villaraigosa’s bidding. Oh, one or two of them might, for appearance’s sake, voice some token objection to Beck’s initiative, but in the end they will all fall dutifully into line and vote to endorse it.

For their part, ICE officials declined to criticize Beck’s proposal too harshly, putting out the kind of bland statement one comes to expect from federal bureaucrats. Said an ICE spokesperson quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

ICE has been dedicated to implementing smart, effective reforms to the immigration system that allow it to focus its resources on criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration law violators. The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities.

In other words: “We disagree, but we aren’t going to do anything about it.”

Compare this with the uproar against the state of Arizona when it dared to enact a law that mirrored federal law and authorized local police officers to supplement the efforts of ICE agents in that state. President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and the entire apparatus of the Justice Department were mobilized to thwart Arizona’s efforts, with all involved attempting to portray Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and supporters of the law as reactionaries at best and racist kooks at worst.

Will Chief Beck’s proposal, flying in the face of federal law as it does, be greeted with the same level of hostility in Washington? Of course not. Sympathies in the Obama administration are solidly in line with those of Mayor Villaraigosa and the majority on the city council, so not a single federal finger will be lifted to oppose the plan.

Predictably, the Los Angeles Times has editorialized in favor of Chief Beck’s initiative, echoing his questionable assertion that having local police officers cooperate with immigration authorities erodes public trust:

The governors of New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois have all sought to end participation in the program because it compromises public safety.

Unmentioned in the editorial is the effect of unfettered illegal immigration on the fiscal health of these very states. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, among these states Massachusetts is a model of fiscal probity, with only a 5.5 percent budget shortfall in FY 2012, a figure that is dwarfed by New York’s shortfall of 18.2 percent and Illinois’ 18.5 percent. California makes them all seem frugal by comparison with a budget deficit of 27.8 percent, or $23 billion. Is there anyone who would argue that illegal immigration is not a factor in the fiscal health of these states?

If Chief Beck’s estimate of 750,000 illegal immigrants in Los Angeles is accurate, it would mean they account for just under 20 percent of the city’s population. And as the city becomes more hospitable to illegal immigrants, it becomes less so to American citizens and legal immigrants, who must bear the costs of higher crime, failing schools, and blighted neighborhoods.

The Manhattan Institute reports that from 1990 to 2010, California had the highest level of out-migration in the country, with a net loss of 3.4 million residents who took their skills and incomes to other states. Thanks to Chief Beck and his ideological kin, Californians — Angelenos most especially — now have one more reason to question why they should stay.