The civil liberties Chicken Littles are after John Ashcroft again. This week, some of the nation's top editorial writers accused the attorney general of "overkill" (Washington Post), "overreaction" (Chicago Tribune), and "throw(ing) away the key" (Rocky Mountain, Colo., News).
So, what's Ashcroft's sin this time? He has asserted the Justice Department's authority to help stop illegal aliens from exploiting the federal immigration system's idiotic "catch and release" policy. This is the system under which countless illegal aliens are released by lax immigration court judges on low bonds -- or no bond, as in the case of illegal alien sniper suspect Lee Malvo -- and then are never to be seen again.
"The authority to expel aliens," Ashcroft notes, "is meaningless without the authority to detain those who pose a danger or a flight risk." (He might have added that illegal border-crossers, visa overstayers, ship-jumpers, stowaways, smugglees, and other immigration violators such as the Haitian boat people who evaded U.S. law enforcement are, by definition, flight risks.) Ashcroft's observation came in a ruling issued two weeks ago, which denied bond to 18-year-old David Joseph, a Haitian illegal alien who was one of more than 200 passengers on a rickety boat that landed at Key Biscayne, Fla., last October.
You remember, don't you? TV footage of the invasion -- with hapless Coast Guard officials giving chase and hordes of illegal aliens swarming the highway leading into Miami -- was beamed around the world. Coming just a month after the Sept. 11 anniversary, the easy penetration of our borders by these Haitian refugees on an old wooden freighter was a national security embarrassment.
Allowing the illegal alien passengers to be freed on bond pending deportation hearings would have added to the outrage -- and it would have sent a message abroad that more mass incursions by sea would not only be tolerated by America, but rewarded as well.
Alas, the Chicken Littles refuse to see the obvious national security implications of our continued tolerance for massive immigration law-breaking.
In response to Ashcroft's reference to a State Department report that "third country nations (Pakistanis, Palestinians) (were) using Haiti as a staging point" for entering the United States, The Washington Post breezily argues that "the difference between a Haitian and a Pakistani entering from Haiti could surely be discovered in a perfunctory border check." Hello? Illegal aliens aren't checking in at the border or any other ports of entry for any kind of checks on their national origin, criminal records or medical histories, "perfunctory" or otherwise.
"Locking up the innocent to deter the guilty is not a policy that is necessary to national security or good for American values," the Chicago Tribune complains. "Innocent"? There is no dispute that the Haitian illegal aliens are guilty of subverting our immigration laws. Ashcroft is simply insisting that the federal government detain asylum-seekers such as David Joseph in order to validate their identities and verify their claims of persecution.
As the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has noted repeatedly, the "catch and release" policy for illegal aliens has been a nightmare for immigration enforcement. The inspector general reported in February 2003 that for aliens ordered deported by the immigration court system, 97 percent of all asylum-seekers who were released from immigration custody disappeared and were never deported; 94 percent of aliens from terror-supporting countries who were released from immigration detention walked out of custody and out of sight, never to be deported; and 87 percent of all aliens released from immigration custody were never caught again, and were never deported.
The Ashcroft-bashing Chicken Littles raise some valid concerns about striking the proper balance between liberty and security. But the truth is that they have resisted every sensible and effective immigration enforcement measure since Sept. 11 -- from cooperative immigration enforcement efforts between local cops and the feds, to Operation Tarmac, which has nabbed nearly 1,000 illegal aliens working in airports, to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which has stopped 330 known foreign criminals and nearly a dozen known terrorists from entering the country.
The sky hasn't fallen since Sept. 11, 2001. Thank Ashcroft, not the alarmists, for that.