Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

The murky front lines of illegal immigration

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 25, 2012 at 8:48 am with 8 Comments »
September 25, 2012 8:48 am

Second in a series on illegal immigration

The job of a city cop has its ups and downs. For every intriguing investigation or adrenalin-dumping pursuit, there are scores of minor calls – the barking dogs and noise complaints that make up the narrative of patrol work. Yet fighting crime is mostly a black and white concept, an effort that brings satisfaction at the end of a shift.

HSI / Courtesy of

That is not always the case for the agents of Homeland Security Investigations, the agency authorized to detain and deport illegal immigrants. HSI is a part of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security which arose from the ashes of 9/11 to become a large, highly politicized juggernauat that is, nevertheless, extremely vulnerable to the shifting winds of Beltway politics.

The complications of immigration enforcement are evident in its history: It was first assigned to the Treasury Department, then the Burueau of Immigration, next the somewhat infamous “INS” (Immigration and Naturalization Service) in 1933, and eventually transferred to DHS where, in 2003, it was renamed ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement). HSI is the most recent incarnation of immigration enforcement, which is obviously more than you need to know, except to recognize that these federal agents know how to roll with the political waves.

In the last few years, HSI investigators have been assisting police departments and sheriff’s offices in the struggle against criminal street gangs. The federal nexus has been the membership of illegal aliens in gangs such as the Surenos (“Southerners” in English, it is the nation’s largest criminal street gang) and their smaller rival, the Nortenos (“Northerners”).

That cooperation also coincided with my assignment as a gang intel officer. I welcomed HSI’s offer of assistance, imagining that rolling with federal authority would be a straightforward advantage. Not necessarily.

The reality became clear over the course of several gang sweeps, which are coordinated police operations involving patrol officers, gang and narcotics investigators, and federal agents. The sweeps target locations where gang members congregate, such as street corners, alleyways or parks, while the most violent gang bangers also receive a knock at their front door. With the addition of HSI, the home visits were expanded to include gang members suspected of unlawful entry into the U.S.

The reaction to “La Migra” (as immigration cops are known in the Hispanic community) at the front was dramatic. Family members of gang members, who normally defer to the their loud-mouth thugs out of fear or disinterest, will suddenly and loudly tell their son, brother or cousin to “Shut up!” The fear – of incarceration and eventual deportation – is palpable. That may sound harsh, but with gang violence the stakes are high.

Despite this reception, this is where the situation gets murky. The agent’s next move is completely dependent upon the prevailing winds almost 3,000 miles away in our nation’s capitol. Four years ago, agents accompanying me on a gang sweep detained both targets and collateral (i.e. gang members and family members suspected of unlawful entry). There were major repercussions following this decision, and subsequent policy limited sweeps to the apprehension of gang members. This removed legitimate leverage from these operations, especially in the cases where the parents (who were illegal aliens) were both aware and dismissive of their son’s criminal activity.

These reversals clearly frustrate federal agents whose arrest authority is literally there one day and gone the next. The lesson from these experiences is that immigration laws are carved in shifting sand. There is no fine line, no definitive enforcement model that is invulnerable to politics. The federal agents who operate on this shaky foundation already perform a difficult and dangerous job. They also must carry out their duties knowing that today’s legitimate operation could be the catalyst for tomorrow’s course reversal.

That is a lousy way to support a law enforcement agency. It is also a lousy way to run a country.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. I think this single article more than anything else points out the issues I have with law enforcement in general, and federal officers in particular.

    Doesn’t law enforcement take an oath to uphold the constitution of the united states, as well as the laws they are charged to enforce? I’m sure you’re familiar with that oath personally. It also mentions something about “lawful orders of those appointed over us”, which is the sticking point. The law should trump any order. Officers should ignore orders that conflict with the law, and/or the constitution. Yet, LEO constantly violates personal rights, ignore laws, and disregard the constitution, mostly on orders from their superiors.

    Recent example, the “riots” in seattle a few months ago. Law Enforcement, on orders from the mayor, illegally confiscated “weapons” (sticks, poles, etc), violating both local laws as well as the bill of rights in both our state as well as the US constitution. Why didn’t LEOs question that order, or even better, refuse to enforce it?

    In the same vein, why is illegal immigration and deportation even a question? They broke the law. Enforce it. They (federal agents as well as local police) should do their duty, not kowtow to political pressure or illegal orders.

    This one subject is what most alarms me. The argument of “I was just following orders” didn’t work too well in Nuremberg either.

  2. Brittanicus says:

    We cannot blame the children of illegal aliens, but we can stop any future such as this by demanding the two political parties enact the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP Bill into law. Those pregnant women entering America will no longer be able to place the burden of their child on the American taxpayer. They will no longer be able to steal over a hundred billion dollars from the people of the United States. Annually its estimated that 400.000 women who are about to deliver a baby; slip past unsuspecting immigration agents with no intention to return to their home country. The larger majority smuggle themselves through open areas of the Southern border and a few even from Canada. They come here to take advantage of court appointed laws that state they must be given free health care and their children a free education and in some states $600.00 cash payments This is the fornication of our immigration laws that allow the child to become an instant U. S. Citizen, intended for the slaves freedom after the Civil War. A simple amendment can change this, so only the baby born to a U.S. citizen or a citizen by naturalization who is joins military service has an eligible right to apply for the child.

    If Obama wins a second term there is sure to be a comprehensive amnesty, with American taxpayers the losers, having even a larger hunk taken from the payroll check. And to be honest I am not even confident of the Republicans agenda, as that tends to flip-flop? But what I am sure about is the plan of the TEA PARTY if they can eject many Democrats and Republican incumbents and replace them? Its already happening and by replacing incumbents in the Republican Party can politically persist that the “LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT (E-VERIFY) and the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP LAW” finds passage and enacted to restrain more illegal alien invaders. They bring their unborn babies here, to live as parasites of the U.S. taxpayer. The children of illegal aliens had no say in coming to America, but by the enactment of the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP BILL, this incredulous expensive issue for taxpayers is solved.

    Not one to be a conspiracy theorist, but something seems to be irregular with Obama’s zealots concealing his birth background, military service papers and even his university history. If you are open to reserving your judgment, go to the TEA PARTY.ORG and you can make a decision on this set of events. If you have a closed mind and vote for President Obama, you better be ready in forty five days to place upon all taxpayers the largest tax hike in years. Of course this will pay for all the usual issues as defense of this country, but other tax funds will be going to pay for a new Obama amnesty, free hospitalization to deliver illegal alien babies, their schooling, low income housing, school breakfast and lunch, welfare payments for the child that goes towards the parents illegal employment cash and many things that are denied lawful citizens and green card holders, plus we shouldn’t forget the “Freeloaders.” Not the sick infirm, but those who are cheating the system, allowing others to pay for the cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Learn more about the corruption and rot in Washington at The People’s legal team at Judicial

    Our country is going to the dogs with Marxist “Political Correctness” Cops cannot do their duty, without being threatened by the subversives of a Justice Department run by Eric Holder and his czars. The Obama administration has trodden the U.S. Constitution into the slime of their agenda for an outlaw government.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Were you venting, Gandalf, or actually discussing this issue?. Setting aside your cliched reference to Nazi Germany, which I have always found to be shamefully hyperbolic, let’s focus on your distrust of law enforcement in general.

    It would be a waste of time to attempt to talk you out of your mindset, but allow a brief explanation on the use of discretion in law enforcement. Police discretion is recognized by statute and in policy. Its intent is to allow trained police officers to use their common sense and good judgment into a situation which might be made worse by a strict interpretation of the law.

    Sometimes, as in the federal example cited in my column, that discretion can have political origins. The reason is that most federal agencies are run by political appointees who, within the scope of the law, may make judgment calls that are based in politics, sometimes frustratingly so. However, in the case of immigration I do understand that simply putting illegal aliens into detention may have unpleasant and far reaching consequences. My biggest gripe is that our country has failed to find a clear solution, to write a clear policy and to consistently enforce it.

    However, as in the case of your sticks and poles (a reasonable person might ask why someone brings such objects to a peaceful act of civil disobedience?), that discretion can lean towards forceful action.

    Protect and serve, Mr. Gandalf. Protect and serve.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Two points, Brittanicus. First, the situation with immigration enforcement was no less murky when a Republican ran the country. Second, making a conscientious choice in this election, whether one chooses Republican or Democrat, does not suggest a closed mind simply because one votes for a candidate you oppose.

    But thanks for your comment.

  5. Your comments about officer discretion have no bearing on the subject. There is a difference between calling mom and dad because you found their son with a beer at the park and arresting an illegal immigrant for breaking federal law.

    But your most intesting response was:

    “However, as in the case of your sticks and poles (a reasonable person might ask why someone brings such objects to a peaceful act of civil disobedience?), that discretion can lean towards forceful action.”

    A reasonable person might ask, but the answer is immaterial. Sticks and poles? What if the protesters brought pitchforks and torches? How about AK-47s and Glock 22s? Would you confiscate someone’s firearms from a protest even if the guns weren’t being used in a threatening manner? If the governor declared a state of emergency, and ordered the police to seize all privately held firearms due to threat of civil uprising, would you do it?

    No, the nuremberg point is NOT hyperbole or a cliche, except for those it applies to. Laws aren’t supposed to be enforced on a whim. Our own law agencies aren’t supposed to break the law in order to stop other crime, no matter the good intentions behind it. Rules aren’t supposed to be ignored because they are inconvenient. And you speak of “protect and serve” how are you protecting and serving by ignoring constitutional rights simply because someone told you to?

    I agree that law enforcement jobs that are political appointments need to change. Politicians shouldn’t have control over the people charged with enforcing the laws they had created. Nor should agencies circumvent laws for political gain. Nor should politicians circumvent their own laws for political reasons. As a law enforcement officer, you are looked at by the public to stand up for an individual’s rights, regardless of whether you agree with those rights or not.

    As a retired military veteran, I took my oath seriously. That’s why it’s alarming to me to see others treat it with such a cavalier attitude.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Discretion and policy are limbs of the same tree, G. If the jail advises the police chief that they are full, then the discretionary call will be “No misdemeanor arrests.” The reality you are describing, free from discretion, would cause our jails to overflow and earn every motorist a daily traffic ticket. The standard you are suggesting does not exist in the real world, which is why police agencies screen candidates for the elusive trait of “common sense.”

    Cops do stand up for other’s rights, including when that means escorting a white supremacist rally through an ethnically diverse neighborhood. It also means protecting people and property from the actions of a mob.

  7. BlaineCGarver says:

    IMO, there should be zero tolerance for Illegals. None whatsoever. They go out today. If they are employed, their boss/company gets a huge fine or jail time. If your anchor brats are minors, they go with you. I will welcome you with open arms when you get a green card, and start paying your fair share of taxes. As an aside, doing away with the income tax, and replacing it totally with a national VAT, or sales tax would greatly increase revenues, and the underground criminal economies would start paying their share of taxes.

  8. BlaineCGarver says:

    Another thought: “SNIP” For every intriguing investigation or adrenalin-dumping pursuit, there are scores of minor calls – the barking dogs and noise complaints that make up the narrative of patrol work.

    Unless you’ve been bothered daily/nightly by noise, dogs, idiot Wal Martians, Etc, you would not understand the misery noise brings into your life.

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