Opening Statement of
The Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
House Committee on the Judiciary
Hearing on Criminal Illegal Aliens in Utah
July 27, 1998
The most fundamental obligation of any government is to ensure public safety. Our federal, state and local governments have a duty to work together to fight crime and keep our streets safe for American families and communities.
Congressman Cannon, my colleague on the Immigration subcommittee, has been a strong advocate for the people of Utah on public safety issues and on many other issues as well. I am grateful that he has invited me to Salt Lake City to hear your concerns and look for solutions together.
Unfortunately, some of the problems occurring in Salt Lake City are also found in other American cities. In fact, they are all too familiar.
Illegal immigrants cross the border and travel within the United States with little fear of being apprehended or deported. There are now more than five million illegal aliens in the United States, with another quarter of a million arriving each year. And these are conservative estimates.
Some of these illegal aliens are also habitual criminals. Many are drug traffickers. They bring with them a plague of violence, theft and drug addiction. And they impose a harsh fiscal cost on local taxpayers who must foot the bill for new jails and increased law enforcement.
Local government and law enforcement officials work hard to cope with this threat to public safety. But when they are faced with a massive and continuous onslaught of criminal illegal aliens, they can easily become overwhelmed.
When there is not enough space in the jails and prisons, criminal illegal aliens may have to be released. When the Immigration and Naturalization Service does not apprehend, detain and deport criminal aliens, they go right back into American communities, where they often commit additional crimes.
This is a vicious cycle. When criminals believe they will not be punished, they increase their criminal activity, which makes it even harder for local law enforcement to keep up.
What is needed is a higher level of communication and cooperation among the local, state and federal governments. You have a right to expect that when a criminal is arrested, the INS will help determine quickly if he or she is an illegal alien. And if a criminal is an illegal alien, the INS should detain and deport that person. Finally, if a deported criminal alien re-enters this country illegally, he should be punished to the full extent of the law.
Since 1994, Congress has given the INS more money each year for the Border Patrol, interior enforcement, and detention facilities. But at the same time that the resources have been increased, the problems of illegal immigration have grown. It is not enough to increase funding; the agency must also improve its management and operations.
We look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses today on how the local, state and federal authorities can work together to address the problems brought to Utah by criminal illegal aliens. I hope today's hearing will be a useful contribution to that cooperative effort.