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At the Fort Hamilton Army Base, the law is the law

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On June 1, Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton Army Base was thrust into the national immigration debate when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were contacted because workers there discovered that Pablo Villavicencio had a warrant for his deportation.

While many have attacked Fort Hamilton for its actions, staff there were merely doing their duty and following the law. I do not think anyone takes any joy in seeing a devoted husband and father separated from his family. However, to suggest anyone at Fort Hamilton acted inappropriately is wrong.

Mr. Villavicencio is an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, and while delivering food to the base he was asked for a driver’s license and instead showed his New York City ID card. Since he did not have a valid Department of Defense identification, he was required to obtain a daily pass and go through further checks before being permitted to enter the fort.

Upon discovering that Villavicencio was wanted, personnel at the base contacted Immigration. Critics of this action by Fort Hamilton are arguing that they should have just turned a blind eye to the warrant. How can this be okay? Imagine what would have happened if this person would have committed a violent crime after being permitted to leave Fort Hamilton. Surely, there would have been a public outcry.

Mr. Villavicencio did enter this country illegally. He was granted a voluntary departure order in March, 2010 but did not leave by July, 2010 as ordered by a judge. This voluntary order subsequently became a final order for removal, and the warrant was issued.

It seems in vogue these days for prosecutors and officials to tell us which laws should be enforced, ignored, or just kind of followed. Some district attorneys prosecute fare beating on the subways, some don’t; whether marijuana laws are enforced or not seems to depend on Mayor DeBlasio’s position of the day or the results of a study group; and when it is permissible, if ever, for someone in this country illegally to be held and possibly deported is a case by case basis for many. Political correctness can’t be allowed to determine which laws are worthy of prosecution and enforcement. The law is the law, and must be followed by all.

During my many semesters instructing political science, I always taught about separation of powers among the branches of government. Specifically, legislatures make the laws and the executive branch and their agencies carry them out. If citizens want laws changed, their will must be expressed through their representatives in Congress, and state and local legislatures.

In fact, Congress is expected to vote on immigration reform measures this week, and there are proposals to let 1.8 million people who came to the U.S. illegally as children obtain legal status. Those who attack Fort Hamilton would be wiser to use their energies to lobby Congress for their desired results.

Unless this happens, the laws on the books regarding immigration must be followed. To begin to selectively enforce some and not others based on the will of a mayor, an army base commander, or anyone else sends us down a perilous slope.

One point that I have not heard addressed is that Mr. Villavicencio did not have a driver’s license. How can he be permitted to drive? Since New York State does not grant driver’s licenses to those here illegally, do we really want to make it our policy that they should be able to drive here illegally also? Perhaps requiring drivers to pass road tests, vision tests, and have licenses to drive cars are other laws some will say we should ignore.

During my time as Brooklyn Director under former Congressman Vito Fossella, the No. 1 casework issue in my Bay Ridge office was immigration. I witnessed thousands of people during my tenure trying to enter or help their family members come to this country the right way. So, as much as my heart aches for what happened to Mr. Villavicencio at Fort Hamilton, I think of all those who waited on the lines, made the phone calls, visited the appropriate offices, and put in the time for the privilege to enter our country legally.

Bob Capano is Chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party and has been an adjunct political science professor at the City University of New York for over 15 years.

Updated 1:34 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Dan from Bay Ridge says:
Pretty sure it's reductive to say the criticism is that the Fort should turn a blind eye to the warrant. The issues here are much more complex than Bob lays out.

Among the criticisms:
1) A Background check was performed when Pablo said he gave no authorization, which is against base policy for a civilian.
2) Handing off to another agency on discovering an open warrant is generally up to base discretion. Fort Lee, VA generally only denies access and calls authorities for felony warrants (which should calm Bob's slippery slope worries).
3) Some object to ICE itself, not the base. They argue ICE is poorly integrated with our immigration courts and has little oversight.
4) Some question if the combination of decisions made by the base violated Posse Comitatus.
5) Some are curious why he was able to gain access previously but suddenly was targeted on this particular trip. Enforcement was uneven, and guards may have been biased in their enforcement.
6) Others argue that summary deportation is overkill for a civil self-deportation warrant (civil, not criminal). Generally, the law states the punishment for violating that is a fine, unless paired with a larger offense.
Etc, etc.

In short: The arguments are far more logical, the issue is far more nuanced, and the circumstances are far more fishy than Bob depicts.
June 23, 10:16 pm
Steve from Bay Ridge says:
I agree with Bob. There may be more nuances as Dan says above that Bob could not get to as I am sure there are space limitations on his column. However, the bottom line is Pablo was here illegally and did not have a driver's license. Do we turn a blind eye to those here illegally and do we no longer require drivers licenses to drive, as is pointed out in this column?
June 24, 9:43 am
Pat from Bay Ridge says:
Well done article. Thanks!
June 24, 4:53 pm
Douglas from Sheepshead Bay says:
I agree with The U.S. government and President Trump. Deport all illegal aliens.
June 24, 6:04 pm
Douglas from Sheepshead Bay says:
I agree with the U.S. government and President Trump. Deport all illegal aliens.
June 24, 6:06 pm
Joe from Dyker says:
Bob on the money!
June 26, 7:05 pm

Comments closed.

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