COMMENTARY: Delaware immigration bill sets bad precedent

The national controversy over the death of a San Francisco woman allegedly caused by an illegal immigrant should have many Delawareans questioning the wisdom of a law pending action in our General Assembly.

Juan Francisco López-Sánchez, an undocumented Mexican felon who was in the U.S. illegally, allegedly shot 32-year-old Kate Steinle as she walked with her father along San Francisco’s scenic waterfront.

The facts of the case have been widely reported. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had López-Sánchez in custody in March but transferred him to San Francisco authorities to be prosecuted on a drug charge. A convicted multiple felon, López-Sánchez had been deported from the U.S. on five previous occasions.

ICE reportedly filed an “immigration detainer” asking San Francisco authorities to inform them before releasing Lopez-Sanchez after his prosecution. City officials not only chose not to pursue the drug charge, but also disregarded the detainer, releasing López-Sánchez without notice.

The lack of cooperation was intentional. San Francisco is one of about 300 municipalities and counties with policies instructing employees not to notify federal officials about the presence of illegal immigrants living in their communities.

Legislation pending action in the Delaware State Senate seeks to establish such a policy here.

Senate Bill 60, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Townsend, would make it illegal for any Delaware law-enforcement agency to “detain any individual solely on the basis of any immigration detainer or administrative immigration warrant.”

Termed the TRUST Initiative, the bill would further prevent Delaware authorities from “communicating an individual’s release information or contact information, after the individual becomes eligible for release from custody.”

Rep. Stephen T. Smyk

Rep. Stephen T. Smyk

The initiative specifies seven provisions that would make an illegal immigrant eligible to be freed from custody, including release from prison after the completion of a sentence or assignment to a rehab facility.

This bill would require the state to release an illegal immigrant — who has committed a crime in Delaware and served his or her time in prison — while preventing our police from alerting ICE that this person is eligible for deportation.

Delaware has a documented recidivism rate of about 65 percent. Two out of every three convicted felons will commit new crimes for which they will be jailed. This bill would allow convicted illegal-immigrant felons to continue living here, increasing state costs as these men and women predictably perpetrate additional offenses.

Senate Bill 60 would also be in direct violation of a 1996 federal law that requires local governments to cooperate with ICE.

Disregarding this law has become a trend. In addition to the cities and counties cited earlier, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Illinois have also adopted state policies to refuse ICE detainer requests.

Sen. Bryan Townsend and the other supporters of this bill seemingly live in a state of denial, where illegal immigrants impose no expenses on taxpayers and pose no threat to citizens. If the San Francisco incident did not reveal the appalling fallacy of this naïveté, perhaps the following might.

Although not generally known, the Delaware State Police — an agency with which I spent a 24-year career — regularly conducts surveillance of certain vessels in our waters. In two recent incidents, troopers captured a total of three foreign nationals after they jumped from freighters moving up the Delaware River.

These people were fortunately caught before they could lose themselves in the general population, but what if they had escaped detection? What if they had been affiliated with ISIS or al-Qaeda or another organization intending harm?

While terrorist infiltration does not seem likely, neither is it outlandish. Terrorists would probably enter the country illegally to avoid detection. If our local authorities are barred from communicating illegal-immigrant information to federal officials, we will be reducing our ability to spot such people before they carry out their malicious intentions.

In a recent e-mail sent to his fellow legislators, Sen. Townsend said his bill just reflects current policies already practiced by most Delaware law-enforcement agencies. Even if this were true, I believe we have an obligation to change bad policies, not enact a law institutionalizing and expanding them.

Sen. Townsend also wrote that he “opted not to move (Senate Bill 60) forward in the legislative process” after it cleared committee in June.

However, the bill remains active and can be considered by the full Senate when it resumes business in January.

If enacted, the Trust Initiative will degrade the security of our state and attract more illegal immigrants, who will be able to “trust” that Delaware will assist their efforts to illicitly reside in The First State.

State Rep. Stephen T. Smyk, of Milton, is a Republican representing District 20, which comprises Milton, Lewesand a small portion of Georgetown and surrounding unincorporated areas.

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