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Immigration, Iraq & Recidivism

By Ed Koch

Those who fought in Congress to provide amnesty to illegal aliens were defeated by an overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose their position. But they haven't given up the fight.

The pro-amnesty lobby hopes to wear down their victorious opponents, bit by bit. This is not a battle between Democrats and Republicans, since both parties have members who supported amnesty legislation and others who opposed it.

Supporters of the legislation were led by President Bush, Republican, and Senators Ted Kennedy, Democrat and John McCain, Republican. They called their amnesty proposal the "grand compromise." They sought to allow 12 to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States to remain here and provide them with "a path to citizenship."

The opponents were not led by anyone as famous and powerful as Bush, Kennedy and McCain, but they won nevertheless. I give much credit to TV columnist Lou Dobbs, who discussed the issue of illegal immigration and amnesty on his program every night and strongly opposed the grand compromise.

The opponents, like myself, said no, that the illegal immigrants should return home and that would happen if American employers were threatened with enforcement of existing laws making it punishable with criminal prison penalties to hire illegal aliens. Most opponents recognized the importance of immigration and urged, as I have, that the current quotas of 750,000 immigrants for permanent residence and 250,000 refugees be raised as high as Congress determines the need to be, perhaps 2 or 3 million annually. The grand compromise supporters have not and will not consider such an approach.

Instead, they continue to seek to legalize or, as they state it, document the undocumented aliens, a descriptive phrase they prefer to use , rather than simply calling those here in violation of the law by their rightful name - illegal aliens. It remains to be seen if opponents of legalization are as determined as those who support it.

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The current thrust to document the undocumented in New York is being led by Governor Eliot Spitzer, who wants to provide state drivers licenses to illegal aliens who apply for them. For all practical purposes, the drivers licenses have become the most accepted identifying instrument for Americans. The best example is the need in 50 states to exhibit a drivers license to buy an airline ticket or apply for a passport. To make sure that drivers licenses are not issued to illegal aliens, the rules heretofore applying required that every applicant for a motor vehicle license produce a Social Security number assigned to them by the Social Security Administration or a letter from that agency stating why no number was available. Governor Spitzer has abolished the rule and ordered state employees to issue a drivers license without requiring a Social Security number, accepting instead as sufficient proof of eligibility a U.S. or foreign passport.

In fact, many illegal aliens have foreign passports used for their original lawful entry, but have overstayed their legal period and are now illegally here. These people become eligible for drivers licenses which are required to board an airplane at all U.S. airports. The governor is enhancing the possibility that a terrorist would use a New York drivers license to board a plane in the U.S. I am opposed to that for all of the reasons that flow from the terrorist act of 9-11. The governor has said the immigration laws of the U.S. are broken and he will not use the state of New York to assist the federal government to fix those laws. He is dead wrong on this issue. That decision on his part might have been acceptable pre-9-11. But, not today when the U.S. is at war with Islamic terrorists who are seeking to destroy our country and bring us to our knees in Iraq and in the U.S. A driver's license is not a constitutional right. It's a privilege that can be denied if you break the law. This privilege should not extended to those who are in the U.S. illegally.

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The New York Congressional delegation split on an important vote. The issue was a proposal to denounce for running an ad accusing General Petraeus of betraying the country. Remember the ad outrageously and libelously stated, "General Petraeus, General Betray Us," libeling an honorable soldier, the American general in charge in Iraq who has himself received the Bronze Star. The House voted 341 to 79 in favor of the amendment. In the New York delegation, Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Gregory Meeks and Charles Rangel, to their credit, voted in favor. All other democrats, to their discredit, voted no. Shame on them.

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The crime which I believe arouses the most anger in most people is that of sexual molestation of a child. There is an understandable hue and cry in any community when a child molester is paroled back into the community and as a result of that anger, state laws have been enacted around the country which require convicted child molesters - depending on the degree of the crime - to be registered with the state authorities and their residential addresses kept on a public register. Not long ago, I read in one of the newspapers of record that recidivism by those convicted of pedophilia was less than 4 percent. That figure shocked me and I thought it must be wrong, since I had also read that two-thirds of all convicts committed a new crime (recidivism) within three years of their release from prison. Each year, 700,000 convicts are released having served their sentences or been paroled. I wrote to the U.S. Attorney General's Office for clarification. The Bureau of Justice Statistics provided me with two reports. One was entitled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released From Prison in 1994," and the other, "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994." From those reports and follow-up correspondence with the Bureau, I learned that "within three years from their release in 1994, 67.5% of the prisoners (discharged from prisons in 15 states, including New York) were rearrested for a new offense (almost exclusively a felony or a serious misdemeanor)" and "51.8% were back in prison for a technical violation or a new prison sentence."

The report stated "Released with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%)." The comparable statistics for released child molesters were "39.4% rearrested for a new offense (of any kind), 20.4% reconvicted for a new crime (of any kind), 38.2% back in prison either for a new prison sentence or for a technical violation." The apple-to-apple comparison would be 39.4% of released child molesters rearrested for any new crime versus 67.5% of all released prisoners rearrested for any new crime. For me, the most surprising statistics were, "of the 4,295 child molesters released from prison in 1994, 2.3% were reconvicted for child molestation. Of those reconvicted for child molestation, 75% received an incarceration sentence and 25% received a probation sentence."

The unanswered question is why the rearrest rate (as opposed to reconviction), for child sex offenders - limited to sex offenses -- is a low, 3.3%, when the rearrest rate for the same crime for most other crime categories is so much higher -- e.g., burglars, 23.4%, robbers, 13.4%. The public's perception, including mine, is that pedophiles are acting under an obsession which should result in even higher rates of recidivism, requiring longer prison terms followed by civil incarceration. This question requires further inquiry.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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