The dangerous game of catch-and-release

By Michelle Malkin

Let me state the obvious for the 9,999th time: America is still not serious about enforcing its immigration laws. The latest addition to my homeland insecurity files comes from New Ipswich, N.H.

Last week, the local police there stopped a speeding van. The driver was on the road with a suspended license. Upon inspecting the vehicle, the cops found 10 people stuffed inside. They sheepishly presented authorities with dubious identification cards. The cops asked the passengers where they were from and where they were headed. “Massachusetts” and “New Hampshire,” the answers came back in perfect English.

One of the cops wasn’t about to play games. “Are you here illegally?” the officer asked. (I can hear the American Civil Liberties Union members running to file their lawsuits right now). Upon being asked their immigration status, the passengers suddenly lost their command of the English language. “No comprende,” they sputtered.

After a Spanish-speaking translator was brought in from a nearby town, the New Ipswich cops learned that the 10 individuals in question had paid a smuggler up to $10,000 each to get into the United States. They apparently originated in Ecuador, traveled to Mexico, crossed the border into California with the high-priced help of coyotes, and then trekked across the country into New Hampshire without a hitch. The vigilant cops of the New Ipswich Police Department, who are constantly urged by the bureaucrats in Washington to be on heightened alert, immediately contacted federal immigration authorities.

The response they received from the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was: So what?

According to New Ipswich police chief Garrett Chamberlain, the feds told his department that they didn’t have the resources to take the admitted illegal aliens into custody. Besides, since they were “only” garden-variety illegal aliens and not “previously deported” aliens or violent criminals, there was no reason to hold them. “You gotta be kidding me!” Chamberlain told me in an interview this week. “These people admitted they paid smugglers, admitted they were here illegally, and nobody wants to take them in?” Chamberlain noted that the 10 individuals supplied false birth-date information (“one guy said he was 31 and was born in 1963”) and gave obviously false names. “We called immigration five times before releasing, and they had no interest in them whatsoever.”

As for the federal government’s priority of only enforcing the law against “previously deported” aliens, Chamberlain wonders – at a time when millions of illegal aliens are living, working, studying, voting and lobbying for their “rights” – how anybody ever gets deported anymore. Chamberlain is furious and decided to go public with the incident, despite a politically correct code of silence among police chiefs about open-borders chaos. “We’re asked by our government every day to increase our awareness and try to apprehend” law-breakers, Chamberlain mused, “and then they tell me to kick ’em loose? It’s frustrating.”

Chief Chamberlain is not alone. As I’ve reported consistently since the Sept. 11 attacks, immigration enforcement remains a joke. “Catch-and-release” games are par for the course:

In Wenatchee, Wash., last month, a man now charged with the murder of local deputy Saul Gallegos in Chelan was “voluntarily removed” (allowed to leave the country on his own accord) three times in recent years, but he always came back. In Del Rio, Texas, 17 illegal aliens from Brazil were arrested by a local sheriff and released by federal authorities. The sheriff’s complaints to Rep. Henry Bonilla resulted in immigration enforcement interviews that would otherwise not have happened. Sheriff D’Wayne Jernigan fumed to the local press:

Are they criminals? Are they terrorists? We don’t know who they are … The agency officials at this level here locally, I truly believe, are just as much against these releases as I am. They feel betrayed. They’re thinking, “We work hard to apprehend these people and then the next day someone at the Washington level orders their release. Why are we apprehending them in the first place?”

“It’s ridiculous. A war on terrorism? Homeland security? Hah!” Jernigan said.

Indeed. Perhaps it is time for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to simply drop the word “Enforcement” from its title. Spare us the charade.