C O M M E N T A R Y

Judicial Watch Glories in Victories over Undocumented Workers

By Eleanor J. Bader

To enter the world of Tom Fitton, President of the conservative, D.C.-based group, Judicial Watch, you’re going to need to forget the stories you’ve heard about hardworking immigrants being torn from their U.S.-born children and deported to their countries of origin. You’ll need to forget tales of workplace raids and anecdotes about people deported for driving five miles above the speed limit. You’ll also need to forget about the 185,431 people who were deported in 2006.

 That’s because, in Fitton’s worldview, a vast network of “sanctuary cities” is coddling illegals and refusing to allow local law enforcers to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As Fitton sees it, the roster of recalcitrants includes Anchorage, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

 Speaking at the National Press Club three weeks before the Iowa Presidential Caucus, Fitton—along with allies Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigrant Studies and a contributor to National Review online, and John Fonte, director of the ominously named Center for American Common Culture and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute—recounted a host of heinous crimes to buttress their assertion that if we want a safer United States, the undocumented must be removed. Their flawed rationale is meant to incite distrust and resentment among the native born

 Like a wily adolescent, 14-year-old Judicial Watch is trying on identities. Its website describes it as a “nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.” At the same time, the group’s tentacles extend into traditional right-wing territory—opposition to abortionand GLBTQ rights, and the need to shore up American’s border, among them. Its vitriol also extends to the Clintons and its “Hillary Watch” posits her as an ethical nightmare.

 Krikorian was the first to raise the specter of violent foreign hordes. “On December 12, 2002, a 42-year-old woman was abducted and gang raped on Long Island. The woman was a legal immigrant. Four of the five Mexican men responsible were illegal. Three of the five had repeatedly been arrested by the New York Police Department but NYPD never checked to see if they were legally in the country. That’s because New York is a sanctuary city. Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s denial, city employees do not cooperate with immigration officials.”

 “That 700,000 state and local law enforcement agents across the country refuse to use immigration law as one of their tools is foolish,” he continued. “Law enforcement should act as if every city is a border city and every state is a border state.”

Fonte went one further, invoking 9-11. “Five of the hijackers were in violation of immigration laws,” he began. “Four had been stopped for traffic violations but their immigration status was never checked. This was a missed opportunity of tragic proportions.”

More recently, he said, a plot against Fort Dix was discovered and thwarted. The masterminds? Three men, in the U.S. illegally, who had previously been cited for speeding, driving without a license, disorderly conduct, and possession of marijuana. A few months later, in August 2007, four innocent African American college students were shot, execution-style, in Newark, New Jersey. The perpetrators? Undocumented men who had previously been arrested for “barroom brawls and aggravated sexual assault.”

Invoking fear is front and center in this schema. Despite documented evidence of low criminality among immigrants—arrest and incarceration rates are below that of the native born— Fitton, Fonte and Krikorian want the government to protect Americans from potential terrorists and criminals, aka “illegal immigrants,” using whatever means are necessary. By calling up actual tragedies, they conjure a predictable emotional response, reality be damned.

The trio place most of the responsibility for stemming unlawful entry on local, state and federal agencies. Nonetheless, they also see a role for the grassroots. Judicial Watch’s staffers, for example, have sued the Chicago, D.C., and Los Angeles police departments for failing to report suspected unauthorized immigrants to federal authorities and have initiated lawsuits against Laguna Beach, California and Herndon, Virginia to force day labor centers to verify the immigration status of would-be workers. Herndon closed its job center in September 2007, something Judicial Watch takes credit for.

The group has also championed—and has worked to popularize —Hazelton, Pennsylvania’s 2006 Rental Registration Ordinance. The ordinance requires tenants to show proof of citizenship or legal residency and obtain an occupancy permit before a landlord can rent to them.

Conservatives say that these efforts have begun to pay off. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute agrees, citing the 1000-plus bills aimed at regulating immigrants that came before state legislatures in 2007. The156 that passed run the gamut, from fining landlords who rent to the undocumented to directing state and local police to report immigrant offenders to ICE.

 Although Fitton, Fonte and Krikorian are cheered by these developments, they are far from satisfied. Their vision includes not only mass deportations, but the shutting down of all “sanctuary cities.” Krikorian laid out the game plan: first, convince the Department of Justice to cut funds to “sanctuary cities” by ten percent a year until the cities “cry uncle.” Secondly, enforce cooperation between ICE, law enforcement and social service agencies.

In short, they want to remove what’s left of the welcome mat for the world’s hungry, poor and tempest tossed, burying, once and for all, Emma Lazarus’ vision for this country

Eleanor J. Bader is a teacher and writer whose reporting frequently appears in The Brooklyn Rail, Library Journal and The New York Law Journal.

Spring 2008
Vol. 23, No. 1 :

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