It's rare that federal officials get involved with local politics. Taking a stand on a City Hall issue can only cost a senator or congressman votes and donations, and such an intervention will likely be greeted by local officials with a "mind your own business, big shot" attitude.
Even though Sen. Jim Inhofe was Mayor here from 1978 to 1984, he's taken a hands-off attitude toward his hometown's government. His behind-the-scenes support for County Commissioner Randi Miller's mayoral campaign was a rare exception, and it had more to do with trying to nip the political career of a potential challenger in the bud than any concern about local government policy. (His local eyes-and-ears had given him some bum information about who had the best shot at keeping the 11th Floor in Republican hands.)
So the Thursday, May 24, letter from Sen. Inhofe, Sen. Tom Coburn, and Congressman John Sullivan to the Tulsa City Council regarding illegal aliens and crime was an unusual move.
The tone of the letter was "help us help you." The City Council took them up on the offer later that same day, voting by a 6-3 veto-proof majority to adopt a new policy requiring police to conduct immigration status checks in the course of taking someone into custody on a felony or serious misdemeanor charge. The issue was already on the Council's agenda at the urging of District 7 Councilor John Eagleton.
Tulsa has been caught in a vicious cycle. The Mayor and TPD leadership say they can't do anything about illegal immigration, and we need the Feds to step up enforcement. But the senators and the congressman say that the Feds can't quantify Tulsa's need for help precisely because TPD doesn't report arrests involving illegal aliens.
Tulsa has had a "sanctuary city" policy since at least 1995, when the current policy (Procedure File No. 31-138) was adopted by Mayor Susan Savage, but I'm told that an earlier version dates back to the late '80s.
TPD officers aren't allowed to do anything with information that a person they've arrested may be in this country in violation of the law. The idea is that by removing the threat that TPD will report illegal aliens to La Migra, aliens will trust TPD enough to cooperate with their investigations into crimes.
(Never mind how many crimes might be prevented if we physically removed criminally-inclined illegal aliens from our city.)
Tulsa's policy was even more lax than that of Los Angeles. The LAPD policy requires daily transmission to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of arrest reports involving illegal aliens arrested on felony, high-level misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors, or repeat misdemeanor complaints.
If a Tulsa cop is informed that someone under arrest may be an illegal alien, TPD policy only allows him to give the tipster the ICE phone number, effectively saying to the concerned citizen, "Here's a quarter, call someone who cares." Except it would probably violate the policy if the officer actually gave the citizen a quarter to make the call.
Mayor Kathy Taylor had proposed changing the policy to report to ICE any illegals who have been arrested on felony charges, a step already taken by the sheriff's department when felony suspects are booked into the county jail.
In their letter to the Council, Sullivan, Coburn, and Inhofe say that Taylor's proposal doesn't go far enough. It would "prohibit the ability of TPD officers from reporting immigration violations of individuals involved in offenses such as DUIs, hit and run accidents, simple assault, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, or shoplifting, just to name a few."
"By allowing TPD to report all immigration violations to ICE during every incident with illegal aliens, this will bolster our case for a permanent ICE office and presence in Tulsa, to help alleviate the strain on our communities, and local law enforcement budgets.
"TPD is one of the largest police agencies in the state and the simple fact is that, without their help in reporting immigration violations to ICE, Tulsa can expect to have difficulty getting a permanent ICE presence and the increased federal resources we so desperately need."
The Council drew a careful distinction between misdemeanors involving a citation -- speeding, jaywalking, not wearing a seatbelt, driving with a broken taillight -- and those like DUI and hit and run which result in an arrest, circumstances that the Council action narrowly defines. An immigration check will only be run when a crime has been committed that requires taking someone into custody.
How many more serious crimes would we have averted if this policy had already been in place? In December 2005, Everardo Valencia-Tadeo was arrested for DUI, hit and run, and not having a driver's license. Valencia pled guilty and was given a one-year suspended sentence.
I guess he didn't understand the judge's instructions to keep out of trouble. Last November 12, Valencia-Tadeo, described by the daily paper as a Mexican citizen, shot TPD Officer Scott Osborn at point blank range during a traffic stop. Osborn's life was saved by his bullet-proof vest.
Valencia is now in jail awaiting trial for shooting with intent to kill, possession of a controlled drug, and possession of a firearm in commission of a felony.
Valencia shouldn't have even been in this country after his first conviction. Even if he had been here with a green card or a tourist visa, driving drunk, causing an accident, and leaving the scene should have been enough to revoke the privilege of being here as a guest of the United States.
We can debate what ought to be done about illegal aliens who come here to earn a living and who, other than coming here illegally, don't break the law.
There shouldn't be any debate about thugs like Valencia. His DUI conviction should have been followed by a one-way ticket to Chiapas -- as far away from the U.S. as you can be and still be in Mexico.
And we should remember that not everyone who swims Rio Bravo is a Mexican coming over to roof houses in Jenks. The three Duka brothers, part of the group of six Albanian Muslim jihadis who were plotting to kill as many soldiers as possible at Fort Dix, N. J., came to the U. S. illegally via Brownsville, Texas, 23 years ago.
The plot was foiled when they brought their jihadi training video to Circuit City for transfer to DVD. We should be grateful to the Circuit City employee who was alarmed enough to contact Federal authorities, but the Dukas should have been out of the country long before. They were arrested numerous times in New Jersey towns with "sanctuary city" policies, so their immigration status was never checked.
At the Council meeting, Hispanic leaders expressed concern that the new policy would destroy the trust that has been built between TPD and the Hispanic community. How they respond to its passage will determine whether their concern was sincere.
Hispanic community leaders like the Rev. Victor Orta ought now to work with TPD to communicate the new policy accurately to their constituents, to allay their fears, to let them know that they don't have to fear an immigration check if they report a crime, if they cooperate with an investigation, or if they're simply pulled over for speeding.
If anything, illegal aliens who are otherwise law-abiding ought to feel safer with the new policy in place, knowing that the thugs who are here illegally and who victimize their fellow illegal aliens, can be shipped out of the country.
As Councilor Eagleton said, "No country on earth is as welcoming to immigrants as the United States of America. All we ask is that if you come here, you obey our laws."
The City needs to go further and request the same Federal 287(g) training and equipment that the Tulsa County Sheriff's office is seeking. Charlotte, N.C., has seen a dramatic drop in DUI arrests and gang-related activity since implementing their 287(g) program. But Thursday night's action was an important first step.
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