Immigration is hot right now, thanks to Faux News and its talking (empty) heads as well as Dumbo presidential wannabes like The Trumpster. However, The Trumpster has attacked The Geezer for being a "non-hero" POW and has roused his fellow Dumbo Klown Kar occupants to violate St. Dutch's 11th Commandment. The latest tempest in the Dumbo teapot aside, the whole mess that has pervaded immigration since 9/11/2001 is the legal horror of our day. If this is a (fair & balanced) examination of the current strain of xenophobia, so be it.
The Summer Of Killer Immigrants, Brought To You by Bill O'Reilly
By Matt Taibbi
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Solidifying his status as one of the great jackasses of our time, Bill O'Reilly has taken up a new cause. He's trying to make an undocumented Mexican murder suspect into this century's Willie Horton, casting the "ultra-left" city of San Francisco in the role of Mike Dukakis.
O'Reilly's effort to publicize the killing of a 31 year-old white woman named Kate Steinle, allegedly at the hands of an oft-deported immigrant named Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is turning into the surprise second act of Donald Trump's ill-fated "Mexicans are murdering, raping monsters" campaign.
He's even borrowing Trump's flair for rhetoric. In the past week, he's denounced a San Francisco councilman as a "pinhead" and compared Salon to the white supremacist site Stormfront. Both had downplayed O'Reilly's crusade.
"Obviously, that responsibility [for protecting our borders] is not being met," O'Reilly fumed. "And if you point that out, as Trump did, you are a racist, a piñata for the open-border crowd to bash!"
"The ultra-left is controlling [San Francisco]," he went on. "There comes a point where people get the government they deserve."
Even by O'Reilly standards, it's a circus. He's got his audience worked up into a genuine terror of murderous immigrants. This is despite the fact that our domestic murder rate has plummeted during the Hispanic immigration wave, and every available statistic shows that immigrants commit serious crimes at a much lower rate than American-born citizens.
Factually speaking, in other words, the border-crossing menace story is a total nothingburger. It's the 2015 version of the Summer of the Shark.
If you remember that story, media dingbats in 2001 turned a few gruesome shark attack stories into a larger furor about a supposed "epidemic" of deadly episodes. They kept it up even as scientists told them that it was actually a down year for killer sharks.
This is the same thing, but with racism. Are these good times or what?
O'Reilly, of course, doesn't care about the numbers. His schtick is about politics and ratings, and there's no easier way to score frightened suburban viewers than to tell them that a) Mexicans are trying to kill their granddaughters, and b) Barack Obama and his liberal cronies in limp-wristed San Francisco are their accomplices.
It's a backlash against a backlash, a backdoor way of saying that Trump was right about those rape-happy Hispanic immigrants. Sean Hannity is already expressing this sentiment out loud, as is Megyn Kelly.
The background is complicated. Earlier this month, the undocumented Lopez-Sanchez allegedly shot and killed Steinle, who was on San Francisco's Pier 14 with her father.
Lopez-Sanchez had already been deported five times. He had also previously been picked up by ICE, which turned him over to the local sheriff's department to be processed on an ancient drug charge.
The sheriff then dropped the charge and released Lopez-Sanchez, despite the fact that ICE wanted him turned back over to the federal government.
This seems at first like a cock-up by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which might at least have contacted ICE to let them know they were releasing Lopez-Sanchez.
But this incident takes place in the context of an ongoing post-9/11 security overreach by federal authorities that has caused lots of localities not just traditional liberal enclaves like San Francisco to rebel.
At issue here are several controversial federal immigration initiatives, including a program called Secure Communities.
This program essentially forces local law enforcement officials into the role of deputized federal immigration agents. Under Secure Communities, anyone arrested anywhere is supposed to have their fingerprint information sent to the federal government, which in turn checks it against both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security databases.
If the Feds find that the suspect is undocumented, they ask the locals to hold the suspect until he or she can be collected for deportation.
But there are catches. One is cost. The feds "demand" that local cops detain suspects wanted by ICE, but surprise, surprise they don't foot the bill for those detentions.
The numbers are nothing to sneeze at, either. Los Angeles County alone claimed a few years ago that Secure Communities cost its taxpayers $26 million a year.
Introduced by the Obama Administration at the outset of his first term (a fact often left unmentioned by O'Reilly and his ilk), Secure Communities was originally pitched as an optional program that targeted individuals with serious criminal histories.
But states quickly learned that the pitch was a fraud. Instead of targeting serious criminals only, cities and states were finding instead that they'd been forced into a program to mass deport traffic violators, students overstaying their visas and other minor violators.
To give an example of how over the top things became, the Obama government more than quadrupled the number of deportations of people whose most serious offense was a traffic violation, from 43,000 over five years under Bush to 193,000 in Obama's first five years.
Furthermore, when New York, Illinois and Massachusetts talked about exercising their right to opt out, the Obama administration in 2010 quietly issued a memo clarifying the whole "optional" thing. States that wanted to opt out, the feds wrote, would henceforth find that their choices for non-participation had been "streamlined." In other words, the program was optional right up until you opted out, at which point it became mandatory.
Because of all this, and because the program imposed such a serious financial burden, a number of major cities (including Rahm Emmanuel's Chicago) passed measures opposing Secure Communities. In practice, they opted out of the "mandatory" program, setting up a classic states' rights conflict.
This, largely, is what we're talking about when we talk about "sanctuary cities."
For cities and states, Secure Communities is a triple whammy. Apart from asking the states to do ICE's investigative work and pay for the detention of suspects, there's a serious legal issue.
When ICE asks local jails to hold these suspects, all they do is issue what they call a "detainer." But a detainer is not a court order. It's not a warrant. It's simply a request that local cops keep a suspect in jail willy-nilly until ICE decides to pick him or her up.
There was a time when a local police officer needed at least some legal excuse for holding a person behind bars, but in the post-9/11 world nobody blinks at this sort of thing, apparently regardless of party affiliation. Numerous Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton, have joined the Trumps of the world in the wake of the Steinle killing in saying San Francisco should have honored the "detainer," despite the fact that "detainers" are legal absurdities.
Courts in some regions last year ruled that these "detainers" are unconstitutional detentions, and that local jails that keep people imprisoned without a warrant can be held liable. Cities like San Francisco, in other words, can now be sued for obeying these "detainers." The federal government has conceded these rulings have hurt the program.
So to sum up, all the federal government is asking in Secure Communities is that already stretched-thin local cops 1) do their work for them, 2) pay for their jailing costs and 3) serially commit kidnapping.
And these are just the factors localities consider before their attitude toward immigration enforcement comes into play.
A few years ago I interviewed a Mexican-born woman in Los Angeles named Natividad Felix whose husband caught a charge after getting in a fight with local drug dealers. Thanks to policies like Secure Communities, he was deported. She and her kids haven't seen him since. The family ended up living in a van. This is, what, smart policy? Good for communities?
Certainly it's not a slam dunk that every law enforcement officer wants a piece of this kind of work. As one cop in Southern California put it to me, "If I wanted to take immigrants out of their homes, I'd have gone to work for ICE. But I didn't. I have a real job."
This is not to excuse what happened in the tragic Steinle case. Clearly, someone who's been deported five times shouldn't be here.
But cities like San Francisco would likely be more willing to work with the federal government in cases like the Lopez-Sanchez affair if they hadn't spent the last six years being bullied into the nonsensical, costly and probably unconstitutional Secure Communities fiasco.
All the federal government would have to do to make it easier for cities and states to cooperate is get a warrant the next time they want a suspect like Lopez-Sanchez held over for deportation. In other words, they just have to do their jobs.
The irony here is that O'Reilly and his viewers are almost certainly the same people who flipped out when Janet Reno sent her thug squad through a door to fetch Elian Gonzalez. Back then the armchair conservative had nothing but disdain for the fed in jackboots.
Now, though, when the Obama federal government is trying to outsource their door-kicking work to Andy Griffith, Fox audiences can't get enough of it. They hate big government, but they hate immigrants more.
It's not easy to follow the testudine plodding of Bill O'Reilly's mind, but his basic idea seems to be that local police now should be stripped of their independence, and all cases involving immigrants with criminal records should trigger mandatory federal prison sentences.
His audiences are eating this up now, but clearly they're not thinking this one through. How will they like it if the IRS under President Hillary Clinton decides to force local cops to become tax collectors? Won't be so funny then, will it?
Man, are we a crazy people sometimes. O'Reilly is right about one thing: We do get the government we deserve. Ω
[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Most recently, he has written The Divide (2014). Taibbi received a BA (journalism) from Bard College.]
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