Thursday, April 5, 2007

Gang Removal: Los Angeles

Today's LATimes ran a story about efforts to remove suspected gang members. The local police are enlisting the aid of ICE to deport suspected individuals that they have identified as gang members.  ICE can deport noncitizens on the basis of immigration violations, regardless of whether charges are ever brought on the basis of the offense underlying the arrest.

Supporters of the plan say that this is a good way to crack down on gangs without having to establish that a gang member has actually committed a gang-related crime.  Critics note that because of anti-gang injuctions, suspected gang members can be arrested for loitering and carrying spay cans (because of graffiti concerns).  Under the current arrangement, even before these minor offenses are charged, a person can be deported on the basis of immigration violations.   The story is here.

To many -- indeed, to the vast majority of readers of the LATimes article who have been polled -- this sounds like a no-brainer: let's deport gang members.  In some cases, that may be the right answer.  But  perhaps a little reflection ought to go into this.  I know -- it sounds nutty -- but let me give you some reasons to at least slow down a little....

First, while the article focus on undocumented immigrants, this seems to me to be misleading.  The program is broader than that, even as it is described in the article.  Names are turned over to ICE to see if there are "immigration violations."  This might include people who are here without authorization, but it would also include currently lawful permanent residents who are determined by ICE to be potentially deportable for one reason or another.  It's important to realize that at least some of these individuals have been here since childhood and have no ties to the country to which they are being deported.  Regardless of their ties, once deported, they will face extremely harsh conditions and even death, as you can read in these USAID reports.  Maybe people will conclude that an effective death sentence for a parole violator is appropriate, but the LATimes article doesn't ask us to consider that this is part of the program - so let's at least be clear about this possibility.

We should also consider the fact that not everyone labeled a gang member is the same, and that deportation may not be the appropriate remedy in every case of every noncitizen identified as a gang member.  Since the law gives immigration judges little flexibility, and since many noncitizens will not have counsel in their deportation proceedings, we should at least recognize that some people may be wrongly deported, and some people who are lawfully deported may have equities that suggest that they ought not be deported.  This comment is more a criticism of post-1996 immigration laws than the state-federal collaboration, but unfortunately, here the issues are intertwined.

While I understand the general enthusiasm for state-federal collaboration in preventing violent crime, I am also concerned that the use of broad and damning labels ("gang members" and "illegal immigrants") is used to paint the targeted group here as consisting entirely of the most hardened criminals, who also happen to be here illegally.  That may be true in some cases, but it's not going to be true in every case.  I raise these points because state and federal authorities are not likely to bother making these distinctions if an uncritical press and public jump eagerly on board without reading all of the fine print.


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Tracked on Sep 14, 2007 12:27:03 AM