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On the October 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that "47 states will not allow local and state police" to arrest undocumented immigrants, adding that "only Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama have empowered authorities to detain illegals." O'Reilly then complained of the "hard time" he predicted Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) would have passing new legislation aimed at increasing local enforcement of immigration laws.
Yet O'Reilly's statements misrepresented the level of authority already delegated to states for the enforcement of federal immigration policy. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states are already empowered by the Immigration and Nationality Act to enforce criminal violations of immigration law (such as illegally crossing the border) and a limited range of civil violations. Specifically, the Department of Justice expanded local powers to address illegal immigration in 2002 when it introduced the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. As an article in the June 7 edition of the New York Law Journal explained:
In connection with this initiative, the Attorney General announced that information concerning aliens who overstay their visas or attempt to evade registration requirements -- civil immigration violations -- will be entered into the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC") database, a system that state and local police officers regularly check during traffic stops and other routine encounters. The Attorney General explained that state and local law enforcement could then voluntarily arrest those individuals on the basis of their immigration violations and transfer them to the custody of federal immigration officials.
O'Reilly also misreported the extent of state and local enforcement of immigration laws. The Associated Press reported on October 6 that states and localities may enforce immigration law but that "[l]ocal officials must first go through training to get such approval." The AP indicated that "Alabama, Florida and Los Angeles County, Calif., have already obtained federal approval to train civilian law enforcement officers so they can arrest suspected illegal immigrants," and Arkansas has initiated the required training phase. As the AP also reported on April 24, "A new law allows the Arkansas State Police director to designate some or all of the agency's employees to be trained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enforce immigration laws on federal highways in Arkansas."
From a discussion between O'Reilly and Steve Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, on the October 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: The "Follow-up" segment tonight: One of the reasons we have about 10 million illegal aliens running around the USA is that 47 states will not allow local and state police to arrest them. Only Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama have empowered authorities to detain illegals because, well, they're illegal. Now there's a new proposed law in the Senate -- federal law sponsored by Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. And the law would deputize state and local police all over the country to arrest illegals for immigration violation.
O'REILLY: Now I had Senator Hutchison on The Radio Factor today. And I told her, and I think this is true, "You're going to have a hard time getting this passed. You're going to have a hard time."
CAMAROTA: Right. Right. You're right. The ethnic advocacy groups, the immigration lawyers, the business community who want something like open borders will fight it like heck. The only way it will get passed is if she can marshal enough public opinion, because it's common sense.