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New Perspective On Immigration Reform

By Marsha Blackburn

Four months ago a promising young man named Jamiel Shaw was gunned down in Los Angeles by a criminal alien who was freed from prison only the day before. Community members were shocked and saddened by another victim claimed to gang violence. Thousands turned out to say goodbye during the student-athlete's funeral. But weeks later an investigation revealed Shaw's assailant was no ordinary gang member. Pedro Espinoza, it turns out, was instead a violent criminal alien released from prison (and not turned over the Federal government) on March 1st, exactly one day before he murdered the seventeen year-old Shaw. Sorrow turned to anger, and a demand for action.

This tragic case highlights a new role that local law enforcement is playing, one for which they are poorly resourced or equipped. At a time when illegal immigration has turned every community into a border town, local law enforcement has become the nation's real border fence. We must recognize that they are playing this role by necessity, if not by choice, and resource them appropriately. The cop on the beat has a new threat in the form of criminal aliens. That threat can be easily and justifiably deported if correctly identified. The problem is that most local law enforcement officers, the men and women who find themselves on the front line of the immigration problem, don't have the resources or are actually banned from enforcing the country's existing immigration laws.

Jamiel Shaw's gang-land style execution, after all, provides a shocking example of what happens when police officers don't have the right tools in their arsenal. And too often, local rules and regulations leave law enforcement officials fighting with one hand tied behind their backs in the struggle to protect their communities.

LA's sanctuary policy, known as Special Order 40, is just one illustration. The local rule prohibits law enforcement officials from asking any questions about a detainee's immigration status. In cities that implement similar ordinances, law enforcement officials have no flexibility to ask questions even if they possess concrete evidence suggesting violation of our nation's immigration laws. The political leaders in these communities instead take a "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" approach to working with the federal government on illegal immigration.

Concerned citizens and police officers across the nation are pushing back. Tired of a slow and steady denigration of public safety in their communities and a dramatic spike in immigrant-related gang violence, citizens are demanding their legislators repeal sanctuary policies similar to Special Order 40.

The community has proposed "Jamiel's Law" which would place an immediate immigration hold on a criminal until the Feds pick him up. "Jamiel's Law" corrects in LA what has become a problem in sanctuary cities across the nation, but that is not the end of the story. In nearly ever American city small and large, citizens and law enforcement officials agree that Washington is not doing an effective job of enforcing immigration law, or answering the call from police officers when help is needed.

This is where Congress must step in to fill the breach. The CLEAR act, under consideration by the House, will prevent "catch and release" policies responsible for Jamiel Shaw's murder by providing law enforcement access to information on immigration violations. Officers currently lack that information unless they have a specific agreement in place with the Department of Homeland Security. As a result, they have no way to cross-check detained, arrested, or currently incarcerated bad-guys' criminal background with an immigration database. That gap in information sharing led to a violent criminal and illegal immigrant's release onto the streets of Los Angeles, where he gunned down Jamiel Shaw the very next day.

This is not another call for a wholesale, and possibly unrealistic, roundup of all illegal aliens. Rather it is a commonsense approach, giving cops the ability to protect our communities by kicking proven violent offenders out. One county in Tennessee has a relationship with DHS that allows them to identify criminal aliens in county jails. As a result of this relationship, 3,000 aliens were handed over to the federal government and deported last year.

By working together at the city, state and federal level, we can prevent senseless crime that afflicts communities around the country. Jamiel's family and citizens in LA have shown us the will in our communities is there. Washington just needs to replace political hand wringing with a little common sense.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn represents Tennessee's 7th congressional district.

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