You could hardly have missed it. It was all over the media in the past few days, and seemingly painted more as a human-interest story than one about people flagrantly violating the law: “Nashville neighbors stop ICE agents from nabbing father and son by linking arms in driveway”; “ICE agents back down after neighbors, activists link arms to help father and son avoid feds”; “ICE tries to bring man into custody, neighbors form human chain to let them get home”; etc., etc.
Amazingly, one reporter even stated, as if it were an indisputable fact, that “[b]ecause this was a civil matter … citizens are not committing a crime by interfering.” That’s simply incorrect as a matter of law, and reckless to even suggest.
So why were none of these “neighbors” arrested for stopping ICE from picking up someone the agency says was a known convicted criminal? When police come looking for an American citizen who’s committed a crime, do the neighbors normally think they can get in the way without consequences? Do they think keeping law enforcement from doing their jobs and keeping the community safe is just the neighborly thing to do?
When 10 News Nashville spoke to Lincoln Memorial University law professor William Gill to try to explain to viewers why none of the “human chain” were arrested, he didn’t say ICE couldn’t have arrested them. Instead he recognized the agency likely could have for “some kind of obstruction charge” but for whatever reason “probably decided they didn’t want to do that.”
But what does the law actually say? The law sure sounds like this was a crime. Probably multiple crimes.
Professor Gill’s first instinct was correct in mentioning the federal obstruction of justice laws. When ICE is actively looking for a particular illegal alien, that often means the alien has already been ordered removed from the country by an immigration judge. It follows that someone getting in the way of ICE enforcing that order of removal could be committing “obstruction of proceedings” before a federal agency, namely before the immigration court that issued the order.
But there are also other federal crimes more specific to people getting in the way of immigration enforcement. In Title 8 of the United States Code, Section 1324 is called “Bringing in and harboring certain aliens.” It’s often referred to as the federal alien “smuggling” statute, but it actually criminalizes many more activities regarding protecting or assisting aliens than just anything that could described as smuggling.
It’s probably more accurate to refer to it as the alien harboring statute. It might or might not have applied to this particular situation, but easily could in similar circumstances.
Notably, neither the obstruction nor harboring statute requires federal agents to have a criminal warrant for the person they’re looking before someone else deliberately getting in the way can be arrested. Neither statute draws any distinction between criminal and civil enforcement at all.
This is just one prominent episode in an alarming trend: a lot of people don’t just think illegal aliens can freely break the law, but that everyone else can do it too if it’s to “help” or “protect” illegal aliens. It’s one more part of what’s been described as “a radical new framework that treats any restrictions on immigration and enforcement of current laws as immoral.”
Even people like the Mayor of Oakland or a state court judge in Massachusetts—public officials sworn to uphold the law—buy into it and act on it. It’s easy virtue-signaling as long as there are no consequences.
So there need to be consequences. This dangerous myth needs to be dispelled or more people will interfere with immigration enforcement and it’ll become ever more dangerous for everyone involved. While ICE exercised their judgment and discretion to act with restraint and not make criminal arrests this time, the only way to make people realize it’s unacceptable to obstruct the enforcement of immigration laws may be for ICE and other federal agencies to start making more arrests in the future when the “neighbors” try to get in the way.
Dave joined FAIR in 2017 after more than ten years as an Assistant State Attorney in Broward County, Florida. His prosecutorial experience covered trial litigation at the misdemeanor and felony levels, drug court and mental health court, and two years as an intake attorney in the juvenile division working closely with law enforcement. Before this, he was a legislative analyst/staff attorney with the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives, where he assisted state legislators in ensuring the effectiveness and constitutionality of legislation on a wide variety of subject matter. In both capacities, he often dealt with the interaction of state law and immigration. Dave holds BAs in History and International Relations from American University and a JD from Tulane University Law School.
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