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Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis: Meet County Executive Ike Leggett

Posted: January 25, 2016 at 12:08 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

markUncaphernewBy Mark Uncapher

Substantial media attention last year focused on the refusal of Kim Davis, the Clerk of tiny Rowan County, Kentucky (population 23,000) to sign the same sex marriage license of four same sex couples.  She was subsequently jailed for contempt of court for five days.  Upon her release, she said she would not interfere with her deputies who had begun issuing licenses, as directed by court order.

Local resistance to Federal law is a recurring aspect of the American Federal system. And in recent days, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and the Montgomery County Council have campaigned against Federal law enforcement activity that they do not agree with, preventing police department cooperation.

In December, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would conduct a series of raids in order to deport many who had entered the country illegally.  According to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, the enforcement action was directed very specifically at those:

  • Who had been apprehended after May 1, 2014 crossing the southern border illegally
  • Who had been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, and
  • Who had exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and
  • Who had no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief

If the DHS was not prepared to conduct legal enforcement and deportation under such circumstances, it is hard to imagine when it ever would be. The alternative would render the entire legal process for determining immigration and refugee status irrelevant; replacing it with a free-for-all during under which anyone, once present on US territory, could remain as long as they chose to.

Nevertheless, CASA de Maryland and their high profile Executive Director, Gustavo Torres have mounted a vocal campaign against the DHS. In late December, a CASA protest march began outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in DC, featuring signs with the message: “You want my vote? Say no to deportations!”  From there, the protest moved to Capitol Hill and the White House.  (CASA’s Torres is no stranger to protests against Obama Administration immigration policies, having previously been arrested at a White House protest.)

Their message of “Want my Vote, Say No to Deportation” was heard loud and clear by Montgomery County’s elected officials.   Within days, County Executive Ike Leggett and the Montgomery County Council issued a joint statement deploring the deportations and proclaiming that: “Please know that our county police will play no role in enforcing federal immigration law. If you have reason to need help from our police, do not be afraid to call on them.”

Leggett and the Council reached their conclusion, even as their statement also acknowledged: “We recognize that the recently announced federal policy is narrowly crafted to apply only to those who have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court.”

The County’s non-cooperation policy is familiar ground. Until 2014, Montgomery County’s Corrections Department shared inmate information with the Federal government.  In 2012,   Corrections released 273 inmates to the Feds, 112 inmates in 2013, and 187 in 2014.  After the County Executive decided in 2014 to reduce cooperation, the numbers fell dramatically, with Corrections releasing just 11 inmates to DHS.

The posture taken by more expansive immigration advocates, such as Casa’s Gustavo Torres, toward even such targeted enforcement helps explain why reform efforts remain so intractable.  By trying to prevent existing legal procedures from operating to their logical conclusion, they telegraph their hardened refusal to accept any and all deportations, except in extremely limited circumstances.  By effectively holding out for “all or nothing,” many who might have had new opportunities to regularize their legal status on a selective basis are prevented from doing so.

When local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County undermine existing Federal immigration enforcement, the need for even more comprehensive Federal enforcement tools before any broader reform can be considered is made all the more apparent.