Editorial: Good Immigration Policy, on Hold

The new strategy did not extend forgiveness or legal status to any illegal immigrants. But it did promise to halt the deportations of many thousands of people — those with clean records and strong ties to the community and who posed no threat, including the elderly, military veterans, college students and parents of young children. Instead the agency would go after convicted criminals, gang members, those who had repeatedly crossed the border illegally and other undesirables.

Friday was supposed to be the day when training of ICE officers in the new policy was finally complete. But there has been a snag: while virtually all of the agency’s lawyers and supervisors have received training, the union representing about 7,000 field agents is refusing to let its members attend the sessions. Its intransigence could slow the new strategy for weeks.

The union president, Chris Crane, says the strategy is preventing agents from enforcing the law. In October, he told Congress the policy was too confusing for agents to understand and would lead to “victimization and death,” for reasons that were unclear.

Mr. Crane has taken his grievances to the hard-right media, complaining to Fox News and Lou Dobbs that his bosses are endangering lives and abdicating their law-enforcement duties. He is conflating all undocumented foreigners with dangerous criminals. But of the nearly 400,000 people ICE deports each year, only a fraction are dangerous criminals; a large proportion are minor offenders or have no records.

If the memo is confusing, then Mr. Crane should let his members go to ICE’s one-day training seminars. To us the policy seems like a simple and sensible a way to enhance public safety, conserve law-enforcement resources and lessen the human damage of broken immigration laws. “What I see from my officers,” Chris Shanahan, an ICE officer in New York City, told The Times, “is that they understand that criminal aliens and national security threats should be taken into custody and removed before a single mother, a pregnant woman or someone with small United States citizen children.” That’s simple enough.

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