Why Can't Cops Enforce Immigration Laws?

In Los Angeles, we will soon learn the results of a petition drive aimed at placing Jamiel's Law on ballots for the city's May 2009 municipal election. The proposed law, written by upstart mayoral candidate Walter Moore, would give Los Angeles Police Department officers a more active role in identifying and apprehending illegal alien street gang members. Currently, LAPD officers are for the most part prohibited from taking action against illegal aliens under the terms of Special Order 40, a 1979 revision to the department's regulations. The "Jamiel" of the law's title refers to Jamiel Shaw, a 17-year-old Los Angeles resident who was shot and killed last March. That a young man should meet such a fate is, sadly, not all that uncommon in some parts of Los Angeles, but what made Jamiel's murder all the more tragic is the manifest failure of his government, both local and federal, to prevent it from happening.

The man accused of murdering Jamiel and now awaiting trial is Pedro Espinoza, a 19-year-old illegal alien from Mexico. News reports have chronicled Espinoza's lengthy criminal history as well as his membership in the 18th Street gang, which taken together might be expected to have attracted the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents. Alas, only a day before he allegedly murdered Jamiel Shaw, Espinoza was released from Los Angeles County Jail after serving a sentence for brandishing a handgun at a public park. Systems already in place at the jail should have identified Espinoza as a deportable alien and landed him in the clutches of ICE agents. How exactly those systems failed in this case has yet to be satisfactorily explained.

The effort to enact Jamiel's Law is merely the latest effort to rescind or modify Special Order 40, which was intended to allay non-citizens' fear of the police and secure their cooperation in reporting crimes to the police. But today Los Angeles is a far different city from what it was in 1979, when few outside of law enforcement had even heard of the 18th Street gang. Clearly, all levels of law enforcement have failed to stem the tide of criminals crossing our borders, resulting in an ever-lengthening list of abominations typified by the murder of Jamiel Shaw. (Los Angeles blogger Patterico, on whose site I'm privileged to be an occasional guest poster, runs a continuing series he calls "Deport the Criminals First." Don't read it if you aren't prepared to be outraged.)

But any attempts to further involve LAPD officers in immigration enforcement must sail into strong political headwinds. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who was shameless enough to attend Jamiel Shaw's funeral) is a former president of the L.A. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and he still embraces that organization's views on immigrants' rights. The mayor's views are shared by majorities on the city council and police commission, and of course by LAPD Chief William Bratton, who, ever the chameleon, is only too happy to adopt the prevailing political opinions in whichever city he happens to be employed.

Matters will no doubt be made worse -- far, far worse -- with the installation of the Obama administration in January. Anyone who thinks Eric Holder, Obama's nominee for attorney general, will be a vigilant defender of the borders is sadly deluded, and there is little chance Holder will facilitate the type of local-federal cooperation envisioned in Jamiel's Law. A steady influx of immigrants, after all, suits the needs of two very powerful interests in Washington, D.C. Business interests, as represented by the otherwise sober Wall Street Journal editorial page, seek to keep labor costs low by importing wave after wave of poor and unskilled workers, with each wave willing to work for less than the one that preceded it. And Democrats are of course gleeful at the prospect of granting amnesty -- and eventually the franchise -- to those millions of people, who will look to the government (read Democrats) to lift them from their poverty.

If the illegal alien problem has not yet arrived in your community, you won't have long to wait. Some will call it progress, and they won't mind a bit if a few people get killed -- or raped or robbed or what have you -- as a cost of it.