Across the state and country, activists are calling for curbs on immigration enforcement because it’s making illegal immigrants fearful.
But that’s the way it should be, says Michael Cutler, a nationally-recognized expert and retired senior special agent with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
“You should be fearful if you break the law,” said Cutler in an interview Monday with The Tennessee Star.
In Nashville, activists angered by President Trump’s enforcement plans have gone so far as to demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) leave the city. Students at Vanderbilt have insisted that the university be a sanctuary campus and Metro Nashville Public Schools say they intend to make illegal immigrant students and their families feel safe.
Cutler, who writes commentary on immigration issues, appears in TV interviews and hosts a show on Blog Talk Radio, said efforts to provide sanctuaries for illegal immigrants will make it harder for law enforcement to root out gangs, drug traffickers, terrorists and other criminals. Problems with crime and drug trafficking will worsen if immigration enforcers aren’t able to do their jobs, said Cutler, who blames loose borders for the reason “why heroin has never been cheaper and more plentiful.” Cutler said it makes no sense to spend vast sums of money on setting up screening at airports, only for people to then act as if immigrants sneaking across the border unchecked is no problem.
Cutler backs Trump’s contention that no immigrant is above the law. “We absolutely need to prioritize criminal aliens over non-criminal aliens, but you can’t ignore collateral arrests,” he said. If ICE agents come across other illegal immigrants while targeting priority cases, they are well within their rights to arrest them as well, Cutler said. “Randomness is a valid law enforcement concept,” he said, noting that those arrests sometimes help lead to higher priority ones.
As part of their promotion of amnesty, activists and politicians routinely say that illegal immigrants who are victims of crime are afraid to come forward because of their status. But Cutler says activists and the mainstream media are misleading the public by not acknowledging that protections already exist for crime victims.
“There are visas we give victims of crimes if they cooperate with police,” Cutler said, emphasizing that illegal immigrants with information about terrorist groups and drug traffickers are also protected. A big part of the problem, he said, is that immigrants are suspicious of police because of the experiences they’ve had with police corruption in their native countries.
In December, the MNPS school board passed a resolution that “asks the director of schools to increase and enhance partnerships with community based organizations and legal services organizations who can provide resources and support for families impacted by immigration enforcement actions and deportations.” According to the MNPS resolution, there are about 33,000 illegal immigrants in Davidson County. About 8,000 illegal immigrants in Nashville live with at least one U.S. citizen child under age 18, the resolution said. A Pew Research Center report shows there were about 130,000 illegal immigrants across Tennessee in 2012, up from an estimated 10,000 in 1990.
At the Feb. 28 school board meeting, MNPS teacher Genny Petschulat asked the board to be more detailed and proactive in following through with their resolution. She likened immigration enforcement to a natural disaster. “We prepare our staff to protect students in case of a fire, a tornado, a lockout, but staff are not prepared to keep students safe in case they suddenly lose their guardians or should be removed by ICE at school or on the way to and from school,” she told the board. Petschulat also asked the board to stop requiring immigrant parents to provide documentation of their children’s birth country “as these documents could be used to split families apart.”
Schools typically collect information about students’ birthplaces for their records but a 1982 Supreme Court ruling prohibits barring students from public schools because of immigration status. As a result, immigration enforcers have generally stayed away from schools. But activists are insisting that safe zones should include protections for students and their guardians anywhere near a school. Immigrants and school personnel in California were upset recently when a man was arrested about half a mile from a school after dropping off one of his children, according to the Los Angeles Times. ICE characterized the arrest as routine as the man was ordered deported in 2014, before Trump took office. A citizen of Mexico, the man had two criminal convictions, including one for a DUI. An ICE official who spoke to the Los Angeles Times said more arrests happen now on the street because fewer immigrants are opening their doors unless agents have a warrant and many jails have stopped cooperating with ICE requests to detain immigrants until agents arrive.
Cutler, the former INS senior special agent, said he is “pro-enforcement, not anti-immigrant,” noting that during his career he was involved in admitting thousands of immigrants, refugees and foreign students in addition to cracking down on fraud and criminal activity. He said the language surrounding immigration has become Orwellian, starting with former President Jimmy Carter using “undocumented” instead of “alien” and continuing today with activists saying that people who are pro-enforcement hate immigrants.
A longtime registered Democrat who considers himself a “labor guy” liberal, Cutler himself comes from a family of immigrants. His father’s parents came from Russia and his mother was born in Poland. Cutler’s maternal grandmother was killed in the Holocaust along with many of her relatives because they were Jews.
Cutler was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he still lives today, surrounded by people of different races and immigrants from all over the world.
“Why would I live in a city like New York if I were a xenophobe?” he said. “These allegations about xenophobia are insanity. We have to push back against that false narrative. It’s not accurate and it’s not fair. It’s a lie.”