Warning: this post is long. You should read the whole thing only if you will enjoy watching a liberal L.A. Times columnist get whacked over the head repeatedly by the facts.
To recap: Hiltzik did a post and column about a Costa Mesa program designed to check the status of illegal immigrants arrested for serious crimes. The point of Hiltzik’s column and post was to denounce the effort as “grandstanding” by local “demagogues.”
I wrote a post that pointed this out, and (quite politely) criticized Hiltzik’s position, arguing in favor of the general concept of the Costa Mesa program. Hiltzik, who in January analogized me to a “Stalinist,” responded in his characteristic way: by lobbing ad hominems at me. He called me a “propagandist” and a “serial builder of straw men.” He claimed that I was “unwilling to address [the] issue honestly,” saying:
[M]y column wasn’t about the principle of checking the immigration status of violent illegals, or about deporting them. The point of the column was that Costa Mesa’s effort isn’t needed “to check the immigration status of suspects in violent crimes.”
There are two problems with that statement: 1) that was most assuredly not the point of his column, and 2) even if it had been, it would be wrong.
Starting with point #1: if the whole point of Hiltzik’s column was to show that the Costa Mesa program isn’t needed, why did he wait until the fourteenth paragraph of a seventeen-paragraph column to address the efficacy of the program?
The reason is simple. Hiltzik’s column was exactly what I said it was: a denunciation as racist demogoguery of the Costa Mesa plan to check the immigration status of criminal suspects. Hiltzik rages on for thirteen full paragraphs about the “barely concealed racism” of many who argue against illegal immigration; about the “exploitation of immigration policy” by “extremists” like James Sensenbrenner; about people counting the number of Mexican flags at pro-immigration rallies; and about “demagogues” like those in Costa Mesa. He complains that the Costa Mesa program is divisive; that it has spawned rallies and divisions at City Council meetings; that immigrants are afraid to walk the streets — and that the mayor is connected to those evil Minutemen.
In all these thirteen paragraphs, there is not one single argument that the program is not needed, even though Hiltzik says this is the point of his whole column. That’s because the column is about the allegedly racist and demagogic nature of the program — just like I said.
As to point #2: once Hiltzik finally does get around to addressing the issue of the program’s likely efficacy, his arguments prove to be inaccurate and misleading.
For example, Hiltzik claims that ICE agents check out all suspects at the county jail to determine whether they are illegal immigrants. Dream on! Although Michael Hiltzik won’t tell you this, Orange County officials (including Hensley) have said ICE is not always up to the task.
In a Daily Pilot article that Hiltzik doesn’t tell you about, Hensley and a Sheriff’s spokesman say that ICE doesn’t always visit the County Jail often enough to conduct the necessary immigration checks:
Federal immigration officials already visit Costa Mesa’s jail and the county jail to run immigration checks on suspects, but Hensley and [Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Jon] Fleischman said federal agents don’t have the resources to come as often as they are needed.
Hmmmm. So even in the County Jail, ICE agents don’t visit as often as necessary? Meaning that illegals sometimes slip through the cracks???
Gee . . . Michael Hiltzik didn’t tell me that! I had to hear it from that “propagandist” Patterico! [UPDATE: See the UPDATE below for a contradictory statement by Hensley from the same article.]
These statements by Orange County officials are strongly corroborated by what happens here in L.A., where (as in Orange County) ICE agents are supposed to check the immigration status of suspects at County Jail — but often don’t. I see this first-hand in my job as a prosecutor. I constantly see criminal defendants who are illegal aliens, who have been through County Jail, and never had an immigration hold placed on them.
I called a friend of mine in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who has extensive experience with immigration cases, for a reality check. I told him that an L.A. Times columnist claims that everyone in the Orange County jail has their immigration status checked by ICE agents. “That is utterly false, and nobody in ICE would tell you anything different,” he said. (By the way, I rather doubt that any ICE agent would be willing to say this for the record. I think my friend is referring to what ICE agents would tell you privately, over a beer.) He said that he sees illegal aliens all the time with multiple felony convictions who have never been deported. He also said that he sees people who have met the criteria for illegal reentry prosecutions multiple times in the past, but have never presented for prosecution by ICE.
Regarding Hiltzik’s assertion that defendants in county jail all get screened for their immigration status, this AUSA told me: “This person obviously has no concept of how bureaucracies work.” He added that, if every single person in ICE always did their job 100% correctly every hour of every day, it could be true — in theory. But, he said, you’re talking about people with life tenure who feel like they’re fighting a losing battle, like trying to scoop all the sand off a beach with your bare hands. He said there is just no way these agents are going to stay and work overtime every day until the last illegal alien is processed — and he sees evidence of this every day.
By the way, we shouldn’t necessarily blame the ICE agents. They simply haven’t been given the resources necessary for them to do their jobs properly. ABC News has reported: “About 30 percent of the 18,000 inmates in Los Angeles County custody are foreign-born, but only two federal agents are assigned to determine who should be deported.”
There is no reason to believe that the wheels of bureaucracy turn differently in Orange County than they do in Los Angeles, and every reason to believe that the situation there is the same — including the statements cited above by Hensley and the spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff.
But what about Hensley’s “taking the 5th” as to whether the Costa Mesa program might help prevent crime? As Hiltzik explains it:
At a recent council meeting, Councilwoman Katrina Foley, and opponent of the program, asked, “In your professional opinion, do you think that this ICE training will actually help our officers prevent crime?”
“I plead the 5th,” Hensley replied.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that Hiltzik took that statement out of context. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can see this for yourself, by watching the testimony on the Web. Just go here, and click on the “View Video” feature for Tuesday, March 7, 2006. Chief Hensley’s full testimony can be accessed by jumping to “Reading Folder.”
If you watch Hensley’s full answer to the question, it is clear that he is not saying the program will definitely be useless, as Hiltzik suggests. Rather, Hensley says he just doesn’t know. The relevant question and answer begin at 1:16:02 at the attached link. I have transcribed it for your convenience. Here is the full question and answer, with my emphasis:
Councilwoman Katrina Foley: As far as your professional expertise is concerned, do you think that this ICE training will actually help our officers prevent crime?
Chief Hensley: I plead the 5th. [Laughter from audience.] Your honor, that’s not — you know what? I don’t have any facts, and that’s what my business is about. You’re asking me to give my opinion on this issue, and I’d be more comfortable giving you the facts to support this. I suspect that if one person got deported that might prey upon our community time and time again, the program was worth it. But at this point, I don’t have any data to back up my argument. You know, I’ve got a gut level value system that tells me certain things, and I, you know, I’m listening to my colleagues throughout not only this county but the state. This is new ground for local law enforcement. And I suspect that as we go down this road, I’ll be getting inquiries throughout the country “What is your experience in Costa Mesa? What have you realized? What have you achieved at the end of the day in terms of this program?” So, you know, I can’t give you a solid answer. Not one that I can certainly support with facts and data.
“I suspect that if one person got deported that might prey upon our community time and time again, the program was worth it.” That quote shows that even Chief Hensley suspects that some suspects might fall through the cracks of our crack ICE enforcement. Hiltzik doesn’t tell us about that statement, even though he certainly must know about it. After all, it was reported by his own newspaper. That quote appeared, albeit quoted inaccurately (in classic Dog Trainer fashion), in this article in The Times:
When Councilwoman Katrina Foley, an opponent of the program, asked on March 7, “In your professional opinion, do you think that [immigration] training will actually help our officers prevent crime?”
“I plead the 5th,” Hensley responded in jest.
Then he added, “If one person is deported who could prey on our community, the program would be worth it. But I do not have any data to back this up. I cannot give you a solid answer.”
As you can see by comparing this quote to my transcript, this quote from the Times article does not accurately set forth exactly what Hensley said. That’s no great shock; we don’t expect that material appearing inside quotation marks in a Los Angeles Times article is going to be accurate, after all. But it at least captures the essence of what Hensley was saying. In any event, the likelihood that the paper will get quotes wrong is no excuse for Hiltzik’s ignoring this quote entirely, and clipping Hensley’s answer to make it sound like he was agreeing with the questioner. If he had doubts about the quote’s accuracy, he could have watched the testimony himself — which he evidently did not do, given his numerous misrepresentations concerning its content.
The end of Hiltzik’s column is not the only time that Hiltzik overstates the nature of Hensley’s opposition to the plan. For example, his latest post says:
Perhaps Frey [that’s me! — Ed.] should have inquired into how Chief Hensley, the man on the front lines, felt about this policy before writing his screed. Now he doesn’t have to. Chief Hensley voted with his feet. Fed up with this nonsense, on Wednesday he announced his retirement.
In other words, according to Hiltzik, Chief Hensley retired because of the immigration plan. Just one leetle problem: Chief Hensley has explicitly said this is not true. Costa Mesa’s Daily Pilot reports:
After more than three decades in law enforcement, Police Chief John Hensley said Thursday it’s the right time for him to retire, for several reasons — and none is the city’s immigration plan.
“I know everybody wants me to say it’s about immigration. It’s not about immigration,” Hensley said.
It’s no surprise Hensley is retiring now. The Orange County Register explains a very plausible reason why:
[Hensley] turned 50 on March 31, making him eligible for retirement benefits, including up to 90 percent of his salary, Costa Mesa City Manager Allan Roeder said.
Not a bad deal. Heck, I might retire with those benefits, too — immigration plan or no.
Having fabricated the claim that Chief Hensley retired due to the immigration program, Hiltzik should at least have told his readers that Chief Hensley explicitly denies this.
Who is the “propagandist” again?
Nor should any sane reader be convinced by Hiltzik’s argument that federal immigration authorities aren’t moving quickly with the Sheriff’s proposed program:
The current plan is for the city to participate in a program that Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona is trying to set up with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. But the county program hasn’t been accepted by ICE despite a year of talks, and nobody knows when it will be.
How does that show the program isn’t needed? If anything, it reinforces the point that ICE isn’t serious about preventing illegal immigration. But the ineffectiveness and lack of follow-through by federal immigration authorities is precisely the reason that much of the public demands programs like this. It’s circular to argue that the programs will be ineffective because ICE officials won’t get off their duffs to help; that’s why the program was created to begin with.
Hiltzik’s latest post continues to misstate the facts:
Hensley stated explicitly that action by the Costa Mesa police would have absolutely no effect on whether a given suspect got deported or not.
I listened to his testimony, and I didn’t hear him say that. Indeed, at the meeting, Councilwoman Dixon tried to get Hensley to agree that the only effect of partnering with ICE would be to take Costa Mesa officers off the street. Hensley refused to agree. He said that it was a policy decision for the City Council. With the Costa Mesa program, Hensley said:
You will know, when we transport somebody to County Jail that may be in the county in violation of our immigration laws, you will know that they have been processed. You won’t have to wonder what happens when they get to County.
As far as I know, Chief Hensley didn’t say that “action by the Costa Mesa police would have absolutely no effect on whether a given suspect got deported or not.” Rather, he simply said that, once suspects are handed over to County Jail, Costa Mesa no longer controls whether a suspect will be deported. Costa Mesa police can control only whether an immigration hold will be placed on a suspect. Once the suspect is released to County Jail, Costa Mesa police obviously can’t control the rest of the immigration process. But that doesn’t mean they will have no effect on who gets deported. If they place immigration holds on suspects that wouldn’t otherwise have a hold placed on them — and the information I provide about suggests that this is likely — they are inevitably going to affect whether some suspects are deported. So, even if they can’t control the result, they can control the beginning of the process.
if Frey really is concerned about “our scarce enforcement resources,” as he writes, perhaps he can tell us the rationale of having two law enforcement agencies in Orange County do the same job that one handles now.
Guess what? I don’t have to, because Chief Hensley already told us what the rationale is, in his testimony before the Costa Mesa City Council: local control. Councilwoman Linda Dixon asked Hensley: “How will partnering with ICE change our current policies and procedures?” Chief Hensley answered: “At the end of the day what we end up with is local control.” Right now, citizens of Costa Mesa have no choice but to hope that all illegal immigrants are being caught by ICE agents at the County Jail. As laid out above, this doesn’t always happen. Under the program, it will.
Hiltzik also overstates Hensley’s estimate of the cost of the program. Hiltzik has no basis for his claim that the plan would cost more than $200,000 per year. Chief Hensley did not make that claim. Rather, he said that the initial training will cost at most $200,000 as a “worst-case scenario” — not counting salaries that would have to be paid in any event. (He said that, if you do count those salaries, it could exceed $200,000, but added that this is not a proper way to count the costs of the program.) Moreover, the $200,000 is not an annual cost. Hensley initially described it as a “one-time cost,” although in response to questioning, he agreed that, as people are transferred between different assignments in the department, some number of people might have to be trained annually. But he never said that smaller training would cost over $200,000 a year, and it was clear from his testimony that the cost of the subsequent annual training would be less than the initial cost. (The City Manager warned of other potential costs, such as funding litigation arising out of the program, but these costs had not been quantified, by Hensley or anyone else.)
The Chief added that, while $200,000 is a lot of money, “when you have a $35 million budget, it is not a lot of money.”
Hiltzik didn’t mention that either.
Hiltzik is correct that Hensley opposes the plan. My guess is that the Chief is worried that Costa Mesa residents don’t understand the plan, and will resent the police for acting like immigration officials. Most residents probably don’t realize that the plan targets only suspects in violent crimes, and that immigration holds will only be placed on persons who have previously been deported and illegally reentered — not simply anyone who is here illegally.
These issues could be addressed by simply better educating the public.
It’s clear that something is broken with our immigration system. Costa Mesa officials are simply trying to take some small steps to fix it, in their own community. As I said in my earlier post, the details of the plan may not be perfect, but the concept is sound. If Michael Hiltzik wants to argue against it, let him do so without minimizing the potential benefits of the plan, exaggerating its costs, distorting the testimony of the Chief of Police, and making up fantasies about why the Chief is retiring.
But that’s just the opinion of your humble Stalinist and propagandist.
UPDATE: Costamesapatriot notes that Hensley says something contradictory in one of the linked articles:
Most felony suspects are taken to the county jail after being held in Costa Mesa for 96 hours. Sheriff’s officials have said any county jail inmates without documents will have their immigration status checked, according to Hensley.
“They’re going to be screened whether Costa Mesa is involved in it or not,” Hensley said.
Thanks to Costamesapatriot for the heads-up; I had overlooked that sentence. However, I think that Hensley is talking about what is supposed to happen — not what actually does happen. Why do I say that? First, I will note that, in the same article, Hensley and Fleischman are quoted as saying that ICE officials don’t have the resources to visit as often as necessary. There is no explanation given for the contradiction. In any event, Hensley appears to be 1) speaking beyond the scope of his expertise (he is not an expert at what happens at County Jail), and 2) just plain wrong, as the other evidence cited in the post shows. If Hensley is right, why did he say ICE has insufficient resources to check everyone? Why do my AUSA friend and I see illegal aliens in criminal court constantly who go through jail without immigration holds? Hensley is talking about an ideal, not what actually goes on at the county jails.
UPDATE x2: Commenter Steve provides a link that shows just how limited the ICE program in L.A. County actually is.