Chicago, Illinois, a city with violent crime similarities to Newburgh, is plagued by annual homicide statistics eerily reminiscent of places I have visited — Afghanistan in 2003 comes to mind. The body counts are staggering. The cold-blooded depravity of its gang members, the callous indifference to human life, and the 187s being stacked like so much cord wood. And yet their aforementioned mayor, Rahm Emanuel playing his best Nero in ancient Rome, continues to fiddle as flames engulf his once proud city. Confounding all logic, he stridently refuses to renounce Chicago’s status as a “sanctuary city,” brazenly defying his critics who wonder at the logic of welcoming even more lawbreakers into a metaphorical warzone. Message to President Trump and current legal citizens of Chicago: “Go pound sand!” This is the sad example that Newburgh, a city I love and have so much invested in, appears to be emulating.
In September of 2011, freelance author Patrick Radden Keefe dropped into Newburgh to complete an assignment for New York Magazine. His piece, “Welcome to Newburgh, Murder Capital of New York: Can FBI Agent James Gagliano Make Newburgh Safe?,” succinctly chronicled the internecine bloody conflagrations between the Bloods and Latin Kings; the latter group infused with illegal residents of Newburgh. While the enforcement of immigration policy was not part of the story, I would argue that it certainly could have been.
This issue also speaks to “Broken Windows” policing, the 1982 theory of enforcement methodology that was advocated by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson in “The Atlantic.” As the theory goes, ignore smaller, “less sinister” crimes at your own peril. The architects of the policy proposed tackling quality of life crimes as a means to put potential lawbreakers on notice — the police are an active and not passive (reactive) force in your locale.
Of course we all are aware that this is 2017. Successful policing methodologies like “Broken Windows” as well as “Compstat”, and “Stop, Question and Frisk” are all under assault by the political left and activist judges in an inner-city locale near you. While we can quibble with direct causality claims, hard to imagine that this “Broken Windows” style of aggressive policing did not contribute, largely, to the following staggering bookend statistics to my career:
In 1991, at the end of my first year as a young FBI Agent assigned to Queens, New York, New York City suffered some 2,166 homicides. [For perspective, on Battle Monument at the United States Military Academy are listed some 2,230 names, totaling all the Regular Army deaths suffered during the four long bloody years of our civil war.] And following a quarter of a century of “paying attention to the minor criminality as a way to suppress more onerous crimes”, New York City saw in 2015— the year I retired from my FBI Office in Manhattan, — a precipitous drop to 339 murders. 2,166 to 339! That’s an 87% drop in murders. An accident? Hardly. And, while one murder is one to many, there is no denying the effects that paying attention to what Chicago and Newburgh politicians feel is benign criminality has on keeping our citizenry safe.
It is also worth noting that the political left has a certain playbook as it applies to gathering support for their progressive policies. You take a concept that is wholly unpalatable to much of the American populous, and you simply change your description of it. “Quotas” and “Racial Preferences” become “Affirmative Action” and “Diversity.” “Abortion” morphs into “Women’s Reproductive Health Rights.” And…[wait for it]…”Illegal Alien” has deceptively become “Immigrant bereft of Documentation.” Twenty-first century manipulative wordplay. Utterly dishonest and torn from the pages of the nakedly partisan Leftist political handbook. What an absolute and utter disgrace. And decent uninformed Americans fall for this stunt all across the country.
To my point, some members of the Newburgh City Council have determined that the most cynically and politically opportunistic way to sell the “sanctuary city” construct is to demonize those opposed to it as callous, insensitive, hate-filled, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic. Why can’t one be opposed to the acceptance of and normalization of migrants who do not respect the sovereignty of our borders, while still welcoming the legal immigrants who have helped build and sustain our country’s greatness for centuries?
Because it doesn’t allow the Left to divide us and mischaracterize the opposition. Yes, there are xenophobes and hate-filled folks in our midst. But why isolate the few in order to smear the whole? That’s not part of a sincere and genuine effort to find common ground on the current illegal immigration crisis we are facing.
According to the aforementioned City of Newburgh councilwoman and outspoken “sanctuary city” proponent, Karen Mejia, “If you harbor such vile sentiments in your heart, I feel for you. I feel bad for you. I am sorry that you harbor all that hatred in your heart, but know that this city is a city of immigrants, this country is a country of immigrants and we will continue to be that country because that is the beacon of light of democracy that has kept this world from having a World War Three.”
Humbly speaking, as a West Point graduate with a degree in Military History, I would certainly like to challenge the councilwoman’s assertion that ignoring law-breaking and diminution of our right to sovereignty on our borders is what keeps the world from engaging in another bloody world war. As a former servicemen, I would assert that it is brave and selfless American men and women in uniform, under arms, who serve to maintain that fragile and tenuous peaceful world order. Much as the courageous men and women in blue do for the city of Newburgh, New York. Putting those sworn law enforcement officers into an untenable position of ignoring a person’s immigration status when arresting someone for a FELONY is shortsighted, ill-advised, nonsensical, and simply does not make us safer.
Trotting out overused canards like, “But, then the (illegal) immigrant community won’t come forward to help police solve crimes” is just so pedestrian an argument. Again, show me the data points that support your argument. I’ve scoured open source reporting on the matter. The data simply does not exist.
And Back in March of 2017, the Times Herald-Record, in a one-sided editorial, “Police Lead Resistance to Immigration Crackdown,” weighed in on the subject by highlighting certain police officials like the current commissioners for the NYPD and Suffolk County, New York, as opponents of local police departments questioning the status of those arrested, or notifying the feds when the detainee is illegally in the country. Where were the voices from the legions of police executives who oppose selective enforcement of laws?
Didn’t fit the false narrative they were seeking to promote.
What can be established about some of these “opponent” police chiefs is that they serve a particular constituency and at the pleasure of an elected official. Can you really fathom the man in charge of the Chicago Police Department bucking his liberal boss, the aforementioned Rahm Emanuel? Or more locally, how about Kingston’s, Rochester’s, and Syracuse’s “sanctuary city” Top Cops? Chief and commissioner positions are appointments. You receive guidance and direction from elected officials. Your own political ideologies are irrelevant.
Ergo, selectively providing your readers a few favorable quotes and quips from police officials who have publicly pushed back on enforcing federal immigration law does not settle the debate. And why do you only highlight the opinions of police executives when it helps make YOUR case? Seems a bit self-serving, no? Doesn’t lead to a true consensus. It is media bias by omission. The Fourth Estate too enjoined with the political left. Sharing the WHOLE truth about what affects the security of our citizens shouldn’t take a backseat to progressive political causes in need of need championing. We need to make certain that the entire debate is heard.
And while I’m at it, is it not wholly repulsive to recently witness New York State’s chief law enforcement official, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, show up a community meeting in Newburgh back in March, and provide legal guidance on how best to potentially head off threats from the new presidential administration to withhold infrastructure monies for declared “sanctuary cities.” AG Schneiderman — the man charged with upholding our laws — advised the city to utilize the term “fair and welcoming city,” instead of the more obviously nefarious “sanctuary city.” And then continue to instruct your city’s cops not to ask questions during an arrest about a person’s immigration status…
Good job, New York State’s Top Cop! Way to uphold your oath. Bravo!
Additionally, to refute the claims that some in Newburgh have made about coercing cooperation from illegal residents by alleviating them of their fears of exposure, I call balderdash. I have worked in inner-city communities for a quarter of a century in law enforcement. I have spent an equal amount of time volunteering and mentoring young men in those same communities. Claiming that police inquiries into immigration status when making a lawful arrest is the causality behind the difficulty in getting folks to come forward with pertinent information to help solve crimes is simply not true. If you have credible data that suggests differently, please put it forward. I have studied policing methodologies for some time now. I’ve yet to hear/see anything other than cherry-picked anecdotal evidence offered as “proof.”
Show me the data. The impulse to eschew cooperation with the police is part cultural and part a symptom of the very real and palpable chasm between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It is simply not related to the fear someone has that their illegal establishment of residence in this country might be ferreted out if they commit a crime and are apprehended.
One of my final postings in the FBI was to Mexico City, Mexico, where I served as the Legal Attaché in the U.S. Embassy during parts of 2013 and 2014. Prior to this assignment, I voluntarily spent six months in Spanish language training. I was to serve in a foreign country and wanted to observe and respect their customs, cultures, and language. I also followed their laws and dictates and was informed that failure to do so would land me in a Mexican jail — diplomatic status, or not.
It is beguiling to me how folks who choose to emigrate here, or — in parts of the Middle East — escape from a brutal dictator or despot, the vestiges of a totalitarian regime, or religious persecution and then arrive in the United States to condemn our laws, our practices, our culture, and our intolerance. We live in the greatest country in the history of the world. It is wholly imperfect. But it truly is the “beacon of light of democracy” that Councilwoman Mejia made reference to while condemning people like me.
My Sicilian immigrant great-grandparents arrived on Ellis Island in 1905. They were impoverished. They were certainly not readily accepted when they elected to settle in the Deep South, what with their crude employment of English and their dark and swarthy looks. They waited patiently to be processed, and endured quarantine, and fully embraced compliance with all the established immigration laws on the books in early 20th century America. And, they are part of our immigrant fabric that has made this country great. Those currently hovering in the shadows could remain a part of maintaining this country’s greatness — but they cut the line.
Comprehensive immigration reform is an immediate need. Mass deportations are simply not realistic, nor desirable. But breaking a law and expecting sanctuary in defiance of the Rule of Law is simply not the answer. It is an undeserved reward for law-breaking. Reward people for doing what is wrong and you open the door to more lawbreaking. And then your city becomes “un-policeable”, as some have suggested about Chicago.
I trust that the Newburgh City Council — and like-minded legislative bodies in cities across the nation — carefully reconsider this ruling. The precedent this action in Newburgh has set will have a deleterious effect on the city and its citizens. Demonizing those who disagree with this move will not help advance the progressive movement. American voters revolted at the polls in 2016 and rebuked those who, in the past, had deftly utilized “identity politics” to divide us. Let’s try something new.
In the interim, I will continue to interact with, shop with, laugh with, debate, coach, and share the community with those who do not possess legal status and reside in Newburgh, New York.
All the while I pray our elected officials in D.C. will finally coalesce around a comprehensive immigration reform plan. Watching the news lately does not give me much hope — as the opposition to Donald Trump, the ersatz “resistance” — is real, and intransigent, and intractable, and has become everything that was decried when the GOP obstructed the 44th president.
We can certainly find common ground and consensus if we talk TO, and not past, one another. But that is best done face-to-face. Not through this blog, or within a council meeting, or through the crafted, one-sided argument in an editorial. I wish Congresswoman Mejia and her cohorts well. I hope that they carefully consider this new position and that they continue to leave plenty of room for debate and opposing voices. I fear that in our hyper-polarized country, dissent, as always, will simply be chalked up to “racism”, “intolerance”, “xenophobia”, and “haterism” — the classic tactic of debate-via-calumny. I sincerely hope that I am wrong about this. But I’m a realist, having studied the “blood sport” that is American politics since the late 1970’s. Mischaracterizing and demonizing your policy opponents has been deftly and successfully employed for generations. Past is prologue, my friends…
We ALL must abide by the Rule of Law in these United States. If not, we become the very kind of nation that people flee from in order to reach that veritable “beacon of light of democracy” that Councilwoman Mejia advised so many folks were clamoring to remain a LEGAL part of. I implore the City of Newburgh to recognize the slippery slope they are preparing to embark upon. Do what is right. Avoid pandering to a populace that is not “evil”, but has elected to ignore our laws. Let’s seek consensus and a solution going forward. But that discussion simply cannot begin with a simple dismissal of immigration rules and open defiance of the Rule of Law our great nation was predicated on.
James A. Gagliano
FBI Supervisory Special Agent (Retired)
Humble Rule of Law proponent