Immigration: What is Wrong With This Picture?

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My commentary this evening is predicated on a joint U.S./Mexican investigation into the smuggling of firearms from the United States to Mexico.

I am providing you with two accounts of the investigation- an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) news release and a news report issued by a local television station, KSEE. We will compare the ICE news release with the televised news report and focus on what was and what wasn’t contained in that ICE news release that was posted on the ICE website on Thursday, November 10, 2011.

In reviewing the ICE news release, you will notice that it reports on a success scored by ICE, its subdivision HSI (Homeland Security Investigations), ATF, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and a number of Mexican law enforcement agencies in conducting a joint investigation into the smuggling of firearms from the United States to Mexico.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start out by considering the ICE news release and the initial paragraphs of that report:

“FRESNO, Calif. – Seven defendants have been indicted on federal criminal charges for their alleged role in a central California firearms trafficking ring suspected of smuggling several hundred guns to Mexico over a three-year period.

The 16-count indictment, handed down earlier this month and unsealed Wednesday, charges the seven individuals with various federal firearms offenses. Those named in the indictment include: Ernesto Salgado-Guzman, 44; Demetrio Sebastian Cortez-Ordaz, 44; Zeferina Salgado de Cortez, 40; Demtrio Cortez-Ordaz, 33; Modesto Santiago-Sanchez, 72; Victorino Epifanio Bazante Pacheco, 75; and Florencio Solanes-Morales, 69, all of Madera, Calif. Zeferina Salgado Guzman de Cortez and Florencio Morales-Solano were taken into custody late Tuesday on federal arrest warrants. The remaining defendants are being sought by federal agents.

In a related action, Gregorio Salgado-Lopez, 33, of Madera, Calif., was arrested on an international provisional arrest warrant requested by Mexican authorities, who are seeking his extradition to face gun smuggling charges in Mexico.”

We should all be gratified that criminals who engaged in arms smuggling have been identified and are now being prosecuted for their serious crimes. Certainly it is understandable that ICE would want to tout this success. However, I cannot help but be a bit cynical about the timing of this press release and the ongoing Congressional investigation into “Operation Fast & Furious” which resulted in hundreds of high powered and fully functioning firearms being handed over to the extremely violent Mexican drug cartels in what was reportedly an undercover investigation.

The idea of permitting such deadly weapons to be permitted to “walk” as a part of the strategy in this case is utterly incomprehensible. Generally when contraband is involved the technique that is used to further the investigation is known as a “controlled delivery” which, as the term implies, means that control of the contraband is maintained by law enforcement, so that the bad guys don’t walk off with the weapons, drugs or other such items.

You must not lose sight of the purpose for conducting such undercover investigations in the first place- to provide for the safety and security of civilians.

Consider this quote from the ICE news release:

“The federal regulations involving the sale and export of firearms are designed to ensure that guns and other weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands and put people at risk,” said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in northern California. “As this case makes clear, we are allied in our effort to target those who seek to profit by circumventing these laws without regard for the public’s safety.”

Again I am compelled to ask that you consider this statement about public safety and how federal regulations concerning the sale and export of firearms are designed to ensure that guns and other weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands and put people at risk and then give some thought as to how “Operation Fast & Furious” was conducted.

Now we must consider the televised news report which, although much shorter than the ICE contained an extremely significant bit of information not contained in the ICE news release. Here is the paragraph that contains this bit of information:

All are legal residents. All appeared in federal court today. Wagner says federal agents from the ATF and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are working with Mexican authorities in locating five others. “People who may not themselves be cartel members or involved in violence or who are purchasing firearms and passing on to others knowing it will go to Mexico, those people should realize they can and will be prosecuted.”

In case you missed the critical information, check out the first sentence of that paragraph that contains just four words: “All are legal residents.”

Stop and consider the importance of that four word sentence.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), a division of DHS, is charged with the responsibility of enforcing our nation’s immigration laws from within the interior of the United States. ICE issued the news release and yet, for reasons that I can not fathom, in preparing that news release, they did not think it was significant to discuss the fact that the defendants in this extremely important investigation were all apparently citizens of a country other than the United States? Is it not ironic that a civilian reporter would take the time to identify defendants in a major gun case as being legal residents- meaning that they are aliens, while ICE ignored the issue of immigration status?

If this was the first time I had seen this sort of thing I would not be all that concerned- however, I have seen quite a few similar cases where ICE sidesteps the issue of immigration status where aliens are arrested for committing serious crimes! That pattern of omission is troubling for reasons I have provided below.

There are a number of reasons why the immigration status of defendants is extremely important.

First of all, when any defendant is arrested, under our system of justice, that defendant is eligible to seek to post appropriate bail. A bail hearing focuses on only two issues- danger to the community and risk of flight.

Clearly in this case, the danger to the community is significant- these defendants are charged with smuggling numerous guns from the United States to Mexico. However, it is not inconceivable that a federal magistrate might not be inclined to permit these defendants to post a significant bond simply because they allegedly engaged in arms smuggling- there is nothing in the report to indicate that they committed any crimes of violence with those guns. Consequently the issue of risk of flight has to be taken into consideration.

Aliens have established domiciles in a foreign country. This means that if they flee the jurisdiction of the United States they may be able to hide in their home country. The news report did not disclose what their countries of citizenship but nevertheless, the fact remains that they are aliens and this can help to point to the increased potential risk of flight over a United States citizen.

I was often called upon to provide testimony at bail hearings conducted in criminal proceedings based on information contained in immigration files that related to aliens who had been arrested for allegedly committing crimes. In virtually every instance, when I provided relevant information contained in those immigration files, the federal magistrate or state court judge who was charged with setting bail either set bail at an extremely high amount or remanded the defendant without any bail- befitting the situation given the extreme risk of flight!

Next it is important to note that there are times that when an illegal alien commits crimes additional criminal charges may be appropriately filed against that defendant. Crimes such as unauthorized reentry after deportation can carry a maximum of 20 years in prison if that alien had been deported because of having been convicted of committing certain categories of felonies. Visa fraud, illegal alien in possession of firearms and other such crimes can carry a maximum of ten or more years in prison. Even if these crimes are not ultimately pursued by the prosecutors- such violations of law can be highly effective in convincing a defendant to enter a guilty plea to avoid the potential additional time in prison if the case was to go to trial and the defendant convicted of the additional charges.

Additionally, someone should really consider scrutinizing the files to make certain that the alien defendants did not commit fraud in order to acquire lawful immigrant status. Sometimes a conspiracy to commit immigration fraud can help to identify additional investigative targets of an ongoing investigation.

Also worth noting is the need to make certain that if an alien defendant is provided with an opportunity to engage in a plea bargain arrangement that the crime for which the alien will plead guilty to will not inadvertently preclude deporting that alien from the United States when the jail sentence is completed. This is why ICE must work in close cooperation with the prosecutors in these cases.

Finally, it is imperative to understand that if these defendants are subsequently convicted of their crimes, they may well be rendered deportable (removable) from the United States. This means that if they are convicted that the ICE agents should make certain that they have deportation (removal) hearings and that if ordered deported that they are, in fact, removed from the United States. If this is not done, the likelihood exists that criminal aliens will simply be released back onto the streets of our cities and towns after they serve their prison sentences.

While information concerning the immigration status of these defendants was omitted from the news release issued by ICE, it is entirely possible that all of the required steps are being taken and this might be a matter of a simple error committed by the author of the news release. On the other hand, it may be that there was a willful intention to not call attention to the fact that aliens have been arrested for these alleged crimes as a matter of impacting public perceptions.

There is saying among law enforcement officers that just because you are paranoid, it does not mean you are not being followed! I hate to have to wonder at what would motivate the author of an ICE news release to intentionally omit a bit of important information concerning immigration status, but given the current administration’s policy directives doing everything possible to make certain that immigration law violations are treated far less seriously than motor vehicle violations, it is impossible to not question why such an important factor was omitted from the ICE news release.

It is clear that the administration has no desire to enforce our nation’s immigration laws that are intended to protect our nation from aliens whose presence in our country would be harmful or dangerous to our nation and our citizens. If you still require a bit of persuasion, consider that many of the enforcement personnel who are employed by ICE are now being referred to as working for HSI (Homeland Security Investigations). The agents assigned to HSI are given distinctly different badges and credentials that do not contain the word “Immigration!”

Here is a photo of the HSI Homeland Security Investigation badge that is being issued to ICE agents:

homeland security badge

Again I ask that you give this some thought- Special Agents of other federal agencies all carry the same badge that their colleagues in those other agencies carry. All FBI agents, all DEA agents, all ATF agents, etc., carry the same badges. At ICE, however, agents assigned to the subdivision of HSI are given specific badges that make no mention of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)!

In this era of economic crisis- think about how costly it is for the DHS (Department of Homeland Surrender) to issue hundreds of new badges and credentials- and for what purpose? Clearly the goal is to make it clear that immigration is not an issue!

department of justice logo

When you look at those two photos- I ask you contemplate a simple question- “What is wrong with this picture?”

It is time for the citizens of our nation to contact the politicians who are responsible for their failures to live up to their oaths of office and enforce our immigration laws.

The goal must be to make it clear to our nation’s leaders, on all levels, to come to terms with the fundamental fact that nation’s borders and our immigration laws exist to protect our nation and our citizens from aliens whose presence has the potential to have a serious adverse impact. Ignoring those laws exposes our nation and our citizens to a variety of serious threats and challenges ranging from national security and criminal justice and public safety to the economy, the environment, healthcare and education!

We are often told that our nation is a nation of immigrants- what must be remembered is that the difference between an immigrant and an illegal aliens is comparable to the difference between an houseguest and burglar!

A country without secure borders can no more stand than can a house without walls!

If our country is to survive and if our children and their children are to get their share of the “American Dream” the citizens of this nation must take their citizenship seriously!

We the People must be the best citizens we can be, citizens who are worthy of the gallantry demonstrated by our valiant men and women in the military, law enforcement and firefighters, who routinely go in harm’s way in defense of this nation and our citizens.

My goal in writing this and other commentaries is to point out our nations many failings before more victims pay the ultimate price for the incompetence and ineptitude of our government.

The first step in problem-solving is to first identify the problems and vulnerabilities and then devise strategies to overcome them.

If you find yourself to be in agreement with this commentary, I ask that you forward it to as many of your friends and family members as possible and encourage them to do the same. We need to create a “Bucket Brigade of Truth!”

The practice of good citizenship does not end in the voting booth, it only begins there.

For far too long our citizens demonstrated apathy which emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups.

It is therefore understandable that the politicians of both parties, are greatly concerned about the demonstrations currently sweeping our nation just as did the creation of the Tea Party. Clearly more and more of our fellow Americans are demonstrating that they are not as dumb as the politicians from both parties had expected us to be!

I am encouraged that more and more of us, We the People, are not willing to simply sit on the sidelines anymore!

I believe our nation’s is greatly benefited by the rich diversity of our people which is why I could never imagine living anywhere except New York City, arguably the most diverse city in our nation if not, in fact, the world. However, my idea of diversity most certainly does not include members of MS-13, the Mexican drug cartels or members of other transnational gangs or members of al-Qaeda!

If our government’s failures to secure our nation’s borders and effectively enforce our immigration laws concerns you or especially if it angers you, I ask you to call your Senators and Congressional “Representative. This is not only your right- it is your obligation!

All I ask is that you make it clear to our politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated, this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

Feds make arrests in international firearms trafficking probe

Michael Cutler, a former Senior INS Investigator, an expert witness in more than a dozen Congressional Hearings is a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and an advisor to the ‘911 Families for a Secure America.’ He writes about the nexus between immigration and national security.