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Myrick dodges difficult immigration questions

Congresswoman Sue Myrick has no shame. Two weeks ago, after Ramiro Gallegos, an illegal immigrant with a nasty drunk driving habit, killed a young father in a head-on collision, Myrick's press secretary whipped himself into a feel-their-pain frenzy.

I have to admit, it was a brilliant spin job. Rather than waiting for the inevitable questions about the lousy job she and her colleagues have done on illegal immigration, Myrick made the first move. She sent an angry letter to federal officials -- and half the free world -- fuming over the deportation officer shortage in North Carolina and demanding, essentially, that someone do something. "Currently, there is only ONE deportation officer in North Carolina for an estimated 300,000 illegal aliens," Myrick fumed in the letter to customs officials who were no doubt well aware of that fact.

Given that Myrick is a member of Congress -- the people who actually fund US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- it was the equivalent of sending an angry letter to your mortgage company demanding to know why you haven't sent in the mortgage payment you owe them.

All in all, Myrick turned what could have been a political disaster into an effective press run. Plus, she got her ostensibly outraged mug plastered all over the place for about a week, at the ultimate expense of crash victim Scott Gardner's family.

If Myrick had some real gonads, she'd have sent that letter to the President and her Republican colleagues instead, and she would have written it long before now. Myrick's no dummy. Every publication in Washington over four pages long has done the ICE story about how there are a mere 200 immigration agents in this country tasked with tracking down 400,000 illegal immigrant absconders, 80,000 of whom have criminal records. What did she think? That 190 of the officers worked here?

Myrick's office keeps clips of articles published in her district on virtually every political issue, so I'm certain her staff didn't miss the one we published recently after another illegal immigrant drunk driver killed a young woman. He had effortlessly crossed and recrossed our border and amassed a drunk driving record that should have guaranteed his deportation. Myrick ignored the column as well as the frightening figures it contained, namely that NC has fewer than 400 beds available to house these men after their arrest. In April, the Observer had reported there was only one deportation officer in the entire state. But Myrick said nothing about the whole issue until the Gallegos wreck garnered massive media attention.

Myrick has a long history of voting for bills that get tough, or appear to get tough, on illegal immigration, while also voting for bills that make it easier for businesses to employ illegal immigrants once they get here -- which is precisely the root of the problem she is now railing against.

And now, Myrick and about 100 of her Republican colleagues have a new shell game for you. After the Gallegos tragedy, she wants her constituents to know that she's on the problem and has added her name as a co-sponsor of the CLEAR Act. This bill is so bad it even frightens the hardcore conservatives at the Heritage Foundation, supporters of strong measures on illegal immigration. Rather than demanding that the federal government hire more ICE and border patrol officers -- which would require opposing the President, who wants to gut our immigration enforcement system so employers won't have to pay federal taxes on cheap labor -- CLEAR lets its Congressional supporters look like they're getting tough on immigration while shifting the blame elsewhere.

The bill mandates that local law enforcement arrest illegal immigrants they encounter and house them in local prisons until they're processed for deportation. There are less than 400 beds in this state now for that purpose and the bill only offers to build a maximum of 500 more per state -- if they are ever funded. Given that there are four to eight million people who qualify to be "targeted," this is an unfunded mandate of staggering proportions that threatens to shift the responsibility for immigration enforcement onto the backs of local authorities. While the bill promises billions a year to pay for this, it doesn't guarantee that one cent will ever be appropriated. Even if it were, the legal system that handles immigration is so overburdened that local law enforcement would be doing the same thing ICE is doing now -- arresting people and then turning most of them loose and hoping they'll show up for their immigration hearings. It also does nothing to improve border security, so it wouldn't have stopped dangerous drunks like Gallegos from repeatedly entering the country illegally.

But Myrick has a solution for that, too. Rather than confronting Bush about funding those 10,000 border patrol agents the 9/11 Commission said we needed, she's co-sponsoring a bill that will pay "Minuteman" volunteers to patrol the borders -- a bill the Minuteman movement opposes.

All of this is guaranteed to do exactly what was intended, which is absolutely nothing. Myrick's real plan? Fervently hope the next bloody incident involving an illegal immigrant with a long rap sheet happens to someone else's constituents.

TARA.SERVATIUS@CLN.COM

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