Opinion

MEHLMAN: Sanctuary Madness: Virginia County Suspends Police Officer For Turning An Illegal Over To ICE

Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images

Ira Mehlman Media Director, FAIR

Perhaps no policies or laws are more vigorously enforced than so-called sanctuary policies that protect illegal aliens. A police officer in Fairfax County, Virginia, found out this reality the hard way when he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) late last month to let them know that an individual for whom they had issued an arrest warrant had been involved in a traffic accident. The police officer, who has not been identified, was suspended from the force and relieved of his duties as a result of this action.

Ironically, Fairfax County’s sanctuary policy, like all sanctuary policies, is illegal under federal law. Moreover, the police officer’s actions in informing ICE are explicitly legal and protected under federal law. Title 8, Section 1373 of the U.S. Code, states clearly, “Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service [now replaced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Nevertheless, in the eyes of Fairfax County officials, the police officer acted wrongfully and was subjected to departmental punishment, while an individual who was in the country illegally, driving without a valid license, and who had ignored an order to appear for a deportation hearing is the victim.

In almost Orwellian language, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. publicly disciplined his officer and apologized to the lawbreaker. “This is an unfortunate issue where the officer was confused. We have trained on this issue a lot. This is the first time we’ve had a lapse in judgment, and the officer is being punished,” Roessler said. We may be but a short step away from Maoist-style “reeducation camps” for officers who experience “lapses in judgement” when it comes to carrying out the dictates of the sanctuary commissars.

As manufactured outrage increased in volume from well-funded illegal alien activist groups, Roessler grew even more contrite. The officer in question “deprived a person of their freedom, which is unacceptable,” bemoaned the chief. Cooperating with ICE, in Roessler’s estimation had damaged the reputation of the department and the harsh punishment of the officer was a way to restore credibility with the community. Roessler’s definition of “the community,” however, would soon be proven to be inaccurate. As the news cycle developed, immigrant rights activists – unhappy with the officer’s mere suspension – were calling for his firing.

Police routinely check for out-standing warrants when they make a lawful traffic stop or are called to the scene of a traffic accident. When these routine checks reveal a pending warrant issued by another federal, state, or local jurisdiction, the officer on the scene will detain the individual and inform the law enforcement department that issued the warrant. Sanctuary policies carve out a lone exception to routine police procedure when it comes to ICE in a blatant and politically motivated effort to thwart immigration enforcement.

Similar rigorously enforced sanctuary policies in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, have been directly responsible for nine violent crimes in recent months, including heinous sexual assaults. Despite these clear public safety threats posed by sanctuary policies, and the fact that the Fairfax County officer’s actions are explicitly protected under federal law, he faced departmental discipline while a scofflaw illegal alien, driving without a license, received an apology from the chief of police.

But there is a somewhat satisfying ending to this story. That “community” that Roessler sought to restore trust with? Well, he actually did hear from them, and they were firmly on the side of the police officer, not the department and its policy of protecting illegal aliens. The Fairfax Police Department was forced to cancel the officer’s suspension and restore him to his duties. However, it will be much harder to undo the damage of this episode in a jurisdiction where the most resolutely enforced policy is one that protects immigration law violators, and punishes the people who enforce our laws. What Fairfax County officer is going to want to risk their career the next time they encounter and illegal aliens with an out-standing warrant?

The phrase “no one is above the law,” is now back in vogue. In 564 jurisdictions, including entire states, that statement is simply not true. People who flout our immigration laws and then engage in other illegal activities such as document fraud, driving without a license, and ignoring subpoenas are above the law, and any police officer who attempts to hold them accountable will pay a price.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.