Prometheus Unhinged

By W.D. Reasoner, January 3, 2012

The ancient Greeks gave us the story of Prometheus, one of the Titans, who was punished by Zeus for giving the gift of fire to mere mortals.

Residents of Los Angeles County received their own (unwelcome) gift of fire during a long and terrifying extended New Year's weekend when a disgruntled German immigrant named Harry Burkhart allegedly set ablaze a sizeable number of vehicles, many of them in garages attached to, or underneath, densely populated apartments and condos. By a miracle, no one was killed or seriously injured.

News reports tell us that the man was angry because his mother was under immigration removal proceedings and faced deportation from the United States.

Apparently, an alert State Department employee recognized the man, when closed circuit television cameras which had captured his image were made public, remembered him for his anti-American rants, and alerted the police, who then moved in to make the arrest. Allegedly his first words when captured? "I hate America." Nice.

But Angelenos can rest easy, not only because he's now being held without bond in the Los Angeles County Jail awaiting a multiplicity of criminal charges, but because by great good fortune, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office still honors federal immigration detainers, unlike some other major metropolitan police and sheriff's departments.

And – great good news! – if and when federal authorities from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau (ICE) drop a detainer against him, his rights will be protected by being advised of that fact, given a copy of the form, and provided a 24x7 telephone number he can call to complain if he thinks his rights are being violated. Sadly, though, German isn't among the multiplicity of languages the form has been translated into, at least as of now. Maybe ICE can revise its revisions to ensure it gets added?

Let's just hope, though, that he doesn't accuse Los Angeles County authorities of holding him on "no bond" just because he's an alien likely to flee if allowed to post bail. After all, ICE Director Morton has ordered changes to the ICE detainer form specifically warning state and local police authorities against such a move.

Oh, wait…he hasn't been convicted yet. So I guess the ICE agents won't in fact be filing a proper "detainer" to hold him. Probably they'll have to check the box on the new form that says, "Consider this request for a detainer operative only upon the subject's conviction." (Hmmm. I'm also just wondering: when did the burden shift from federal immigration agents to local sheriff's deputies and police to track the status of the subject's criminal proceedings, where immigration detainers are concerned? It's quite ironic, given that this administration is hell-bent on suing states and localities that show the least scintilla of interest in assisting with immigration enforcement. But let's not get bogged down with pettifogging details like that.)

And then there's that nagging little detail of his nationality – some news outlets report that he had "travel papers from Chechnya," whatever that means. I'd suggest that ICE could be extremely helpful in sorting that out by means of their Secure Communities biometric information exchange initiative – his fingerprints are sure to be on file in either case – but there again, he hasn't actually been convicted yet, and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and offend the ACLU and open borders advocates, do we? After all, he was picked up on a traffic stop – could it have been pretextual? Besides, is vehicle arson a sufficiently serious crime for ICE to invoke this dreaded program and help sort who Harry Burkhart really is? I know my answer to that; I just don't know what ICE's would be these days.