By Lacy Cooper
For the last 15 years I’ve protected Arizonans and Americans from dangerous criminals – the past eight working for the United States Attorney’s Office securing the southwest border. I’ve seen how decisions made in the halls of power – whether it be Washington, D.C., or Phoenix – play out on the ground. When our leaders put politics and political correctness before safety and security, there are real life consequences.
I know this because I’ve had face-to-face conversations with cartel members and listened to wiretaps on their phones. I’ve investigated them for drug trafficking, human smuggling, murders and mutilations. That was my job. I was a border security section chief for the District of Arizona.
In March, the flood of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally was 67% higher than at the same time in 2019, when the United States last experienced a surge of immigrants at the border. According to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, “We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.” Our southern border is not secure.
This is a crisis. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has declared a state of emergency in several counties and deployed the National Guard. And it is a crisis that is entirely President Joe Biden’s making. Every action by this administration sends a direct signal to bad actors who control the flow of immigrants and drugs across the border.
Biden’s public safety failure
The media frenzy surrounding Biden’s border crisis has served to cover up another truly frightening aspect of this administration’s immigration policy: the release of criminals from jails and prisons. On Inauguration Day, the Department of Homeland Security issued an immediate 100-day pause on certain deportations.
With few exceptions, individuals who were going to be deported and were just awaiting their complimentary flight (or walk) back to their home countries would no longer be removed. The immediate consequence was that convicted felons who did not have permission to be in the United States were released from prisons after their sentences and let onto the streets.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton successfully sued Washington and obtained a nationwide temporary restraining order preventing DHS from enforcing the 100-day moratorium. But the Biden administration simply issued replacement guidance, which had the same effect. Immigration and Customs Enforcement got the message – individuals who do not meet certain enforcement priorities should not be removed from the country. And unlike the 100-day pause, this new guidance has no expiration date.
The Biden administration’s enforcement priorities are so narrow that they exclude many violent offenders. Take, for example, the “public safety” priority. It allows ICE to remove individuals who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony.” Sounds serious, right? But what if I told you that some murder convictions do not qualify as aggravated felonies. To put it in perspective, at least one of the killing offenses for which former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was convicted would not qualify.
Violent offenders on the street
I prosecuted a Honduran in 2014 who had been denied asylum but returned to the United States and got into an altercation during which he hit his victim in the head with a metal bar, fracturing his skull. The resulting aggravated assault conviction was not an aggravated felony.
Just last year, the 9th Circuit ruled that if an individual harms a pregnant mother and kills her unborn fetus, a murder conviction based on that conduct would not qualify as an aggravated felony. An Oregon robbery conviction was also excluded from the definition. Another 9th Circuit opinion called into question whether a child pornography conviction would qualify even when a child under 16 was involved. The 2nd Circuit found that a conviction for unlawful firearms trafficking was not an aggravated felony by the federal standard. And the 3rd Circuit found that a woman in her 30s who was convicted of having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old boy was not an aggravated felon.
And yet, this is the porous metric DHS has decided to use when determining whether our community’s public safety is a priority. Tragedy will undoubtedly flow from this awful choice, and it is not just those who reside in close proximity to the border who will be affected. President Biden, it’s time to make public safety a real priority.
Lacy Cooper was the border security section chief for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona. She served 15 years as both a county and federal prosecutor targeting violent offenders, gang members, cartels and terrorists. She is now Of Counsel with the law firm of Schmitt Schneck Even & Williams. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.