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Commentary: Nation of immigrants is losing its mind over immigration

In June, high-level officials in the Obama administration asked Arturo Venegas Jr. to spend his summer helping them fix America's broken immigration enforcement system.

The former Sacramento police chief agreed and threw himself into the task until very publicly quitting the process last week. He is one of many notables – including the governors of some large states – who think the Obama administration is wrongly supporting immigration-enforcement policies that make the daunting task even worse.

Venegas believes Obama should temporarily suspend Secure Communities, a cornerstone immigration system employed by the feds, because it is arresting too many of the wrong people.

When his suggestions were ignored, and when the task force he joined failed to include stricter controls on cops in its final report, Venegas quit. So did four other members of the task force, including law enforcement and labor leaders and legal experts.

"I had to part company with them," said Venegas, 62, who retired here but remains a highly regarded law enforcement consultant. "Continuing this program made no sense whatsoever."

Run by the Department of Homeland Security, Secure Communities requires the FBI to share fingerprint information of everyone booked into local jails with Homeland Security.

The idea was for the feds to compare the fingerprints and other information gleaned by police with federal immigration databases – all with an eye toward nailing dangerous criminals who were undocumented immigrants.

But Secure Communities began to fill jails with undocumented immigrants whose only crime was selling popsicles on the streets of Los Angeles.

Wrote the Miami Herald: "In fiscal 2010, which ended last Sept. 30, officials deported 392,862 immigrants, comprising 197,090 who had no convictions and 195,772 who did." According to federal records, 29 percent of these immigrants had no criminal records at all.

Caught in the machinery were people pulled over for routine traffic stops and even crime victims who came to the attention of the feds after first making contact with police.

It wasn't long before immigrant communities made the connection, which has been a nightmare for cops who depend on people in those communities to report crimes or provide tips that can foil crimes before they happen.

But you don't have to take Venegas' word for it – or mine.

In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended his state's participation in Secure Communities because deporting people with no criminal records was generating fear that made it harder for New York cops to do their jobs.

In July, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino threatened to withdraw Boston police's cooperation with the feds for this very reason.

The state of Illinois pulled out of Secure Communities.

I could go on and on, but many in the public do not care. To some, an illegal immigrant is an illegal immigrant and they should all be deported.

I won't argue the moral point. The immigration hawks who make reasonable reform impossible seem to think they corner the market on morality.

Rather, I'll argue reality. Last week, Chicago snapped under the financial strain caused by the deport-them-all crowd. The Cook County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance to free undocumented immigrants they can no longer afford to keep in jails.

As the Chicago Tribune wrote: "Abiding by the federal immigration 'detainer' requests costs the county roughly $15 million per year, or $143 per detainee every day, and the federal government offers no reimbursement, county officials said."

The Tribune also wrote: "The new ordinance, which takes effect immediately, applies to suspected illegal immigrants arrested on misdemeanor and felony charges ranging from traffic violations to minor drug and disorderly conduct charges."

Got it? Chicago is making a choice: Do we house criminals committing violent crimes? Or do we house immigrants who largely pose no threat to society but are prisoners of our immigration insanity?

Many of our "illegals" wouldn't be illegals if we ever crafted laws that took into account our need for cheap labor. Bring a farmworker or a hotel maid under a legal umbrella because he or she is providing a service we need and suddenly we have fewer illegals.

But we can't find the will. We don't reform our laws, and no politician in Washington, D.C., will honestly touch the issue, because DEPORT THEM ALL rules the land.

You know what? After years of covering immigration, I don't believe that even the staunchest immigration hawks in government – either bureaucrats or elected officials – believe we can come close to deporting them all. They know we can't afford it.

But they wave red meat on illegal immigration because they know it's an easy score with people who blame every societal ill on the guy mowing their lawn.

Last week it was Chicago that said enough is enough. Which city will follow? When are we going to wake up?

Venegas is no immigration advocate. He's a cop through and through. He arrested people regardless of race or ethnicity. Like Venegas, there is a growing chorus of people whose words should be heeded – people who are saying, "Enough already."

The nation of immigrants is losing its mind over immigration.

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