All the News We Get From the ACLU

Posted: Apr 26, 2001 12:00 AM
In case you aren't able to read ACLU press releases for yourself, The Associated Press and The New York Times will helpfully restate them for you as important, breaking "news."

Describing the criminal alien provisions being reviewed by the Supreme Court this week, the American Civil Liberties Union's Web site calls them "anti-immigrant laws" that in 1996 "tore down our national welcome sign to immigrants." The New York Times touts the provisions as "actions Congress took against legal aliens at the height of the national anti-immigrant fervor in 1996." The AP says the law was "enacted five years ago amid what critics call an anti-immigrant fervor."

These amazingly similar descriptions wouldn't necessarily be suspicious, except that they are comically false. It is a hard, cold fact that the criminal alien provisions at issue emanated from the most pro-immigrant office on Capitol Hill -- Sen. Spencer Abraham's office. Indeed, it was Sen. Abraham who spearheaded the fight against restrictions on legal immigration that same session.

Evidently, Abraham did not assume "immigrant" was synonymous with "felon." Nor did the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed Abraham's criminal alien amendments in lopsided votes.

The ACLU claims the change effected by the 1996 law required that immigrants convicted of certain felonies be deported. No longer, the ACLU says, could criminal aliens simply "pay their debt to society" and "go on with their lives." The New York Times repeated the claim, stating: "The legislation Congress approved ... required the deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes."

Suppose you were just born yesterday. Would you believe that immigrants who commit felonies in this country were not subject to deportation until the 1996 Congress thought of it? In fact, noncitizens whose conception of the American dream was to come here and commit felonies had always been subject to deportation.

The problem was: Deportable criminal aliens weren't being deported. Legal legerdemain had so bollixed up the system that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was deporting only about 4 percent of convicted criminal aliens per year.

Consequently, by 1996, roughly half a million deportable criminal aliens were happily residing in the United States, committing new crimes and having illegitimate children -- whom the criminals would then cite as "family" to avoid deportation. Just a few years ago, a California congressman stated that "in Los Angeles County, more than half of incarcerated illegal aliens are rearrested within one year."

At the rate the INS was deporting criminal aliens, it would have taken 23 years to deport all the criminal aliens living in the United States -- assuming no immigrant ever committed another felony. (Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper than reading the ACLU's press release to get the all facts.)

What the 1996 law did was reduce the copious "review" for orders of deportation entered against convicted criminals. The criminal conviction itself was still subject to every pointless, dilatory tactic permitted felons who are U.S. citizens. But the order of deportation could no longer be gamed to avoid deportation without end.

The AP insanely claimed that the "legal question basically boils down to this: Do immigrants living in the United States legally but without citizenship have the same rights in federal courts as U.S. citizens?" Um, actually, we don't need the Supreme Court to answer that. You just need to think about it for two seconds to realize -- the answer is no. Immigrants can be deported. Citizens -- even extremely undesirable citizens like reporters -- can't be.

The only question before the Supreme Court is whether Congress really meant to limit the number of time-consuming administrative and court hearings that could be demanded by criminal aliens before the INS deports them.

Also straight from the ACLU Web site, the Times and AP recount various sob stories about harmless felons about to be deported under a cruel and heartless law. Typically the criminal offense is described as a "minor drug charge" committed many years ago on a dare.

News stories about criminals of any sort always have to be read like Manhattan real estate ads. If an elevator is not mentioned, it's a fifth-floor walk-up. If the ad does not expressly say "grt vu," the apartment looks onto a brick wall. If it doesn't state "bathtub," there isn't one.

The ACLU's lead plaintiff -- the man the ACLU chose for their test case to challenge the law -- is one Enrico St. Cyr. According to the Times, Enrico "entered the United States legally in 1986 but was convicted of a drug charge early in 1996." You can search the entire Lexis-Nexis archive and you won't get more information than that on Enrico's crime.

In fact, despite his notable accomplishment of having "entered the United States legally," Enrico is a major narcotics trafficker. He was already serving time on one drug trafficking charge when he was sentenced to 10 years on another.

But you'd have to look beyond the ACLU press release to know that.