Implications of the Baby Hope Case for Immigration

Twenty-two years ago, construction workers found the emaciated, naked body of a four-year old girl in a filthy cooler near the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York City. Neither the child, dubbed Baby Hope by police, nor her murderer were identified until this past weekend, when police arrested Conrado Juarez, a 52-year-old dishwasher from Mexico who confessed to the sexual assault and murder of his cousin, Baby Hope, identified as Anjelica Castillo.

The New York Times reported Monday that relatives of Juarez, who police suspect may also be implicated in other violent crimes, knew he had killed the little girl but didn't speak up because "many were living in the United States illegally." The New York Post went a step further, reporting that Juarez himself is in the country illegally, working as a dishwasher at Trattoria Pesce Pasta in Greenwich Village.

The Baby Hope case will likely provide ammunition to those who argue in favor of providing a blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants, on the grounds that it would bring people "out of the shadows" and improve public safety and cooperation between the police and immigrant communities. CBS News published a lengthy piece Tuesday, quoting experts who seem to be arguing that the Juarez's family's silence was rational, given the legitimate fear of deportation.

But this excuse makes no sense. Those who knew about the murder could have sent in an anonymous tip or they could have told someone who was in the country legally, and that person could have come forward. There are 1,000 things they could have, should have done, and none would have jeopardized their precious immigration status. Any decent human being would have reported what they knew.

Their silence is even more abominable in light of the fact that New York City has some of the most liberal sanctuary policies toward illegal immigrants of any place in the country. (A fact the CBS News piece ignored.) According to a 2011 CIS backgrounder, "Which Way, New York", the city has had various forms of sanctuary policies in place for illegal immigrants since 1989 and things have only become even more lenient since then.

Juarez's silent accomplices could have come forward with no fear that they would be deported, but they chose not to. Sanctuary policies don't work because illegal immigrants, especially ones who come from countries where mistrusting the police is a logical choice, are always going to be suspicious of the police. Perhaps Juarez's relatives didn't go to the police because they didn't want him to get in trouble. Maybe they remained silent because they were involved in the crime – police say that his sister went with him to dispose of the body – and perhaps others were complicit in the crime. We may never know.

While some will argue that if illegal immigrants were legalized, cooperation with the police would increase, there is also the unpleasant reality that if an amnesty had passed before police had cracked this case, Conrado Juarez could have been well on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen. Just as it makes no sense to set national immigration policy based on compelling personal interest stories – you know the kind, straight-A student who never did anything wrong gets deported – it would also be a mistake to draw too much from this case or use it as proof to malign illegal immigrants as a whole.

I believe that most illegal immigrants are basically decent people who are here to try to make a better life for their families, even though I do not approve of the fact that they've disregarded our laws in pursuit of that goal. But the key issue the Baby Hope case highlights for me is the importance of preventing people like Conrado Juarez from getting to the United States in the first place.

The border must be secured, otherwise we surrender control over who lives here. That's a no-brainer, but the truly vexing problem is how we vet legal immigrants to keep out would-be criminals. We require immigrant visa applicants to present police and court certificates, supposedly proving that the migrant has no serious convictions or pending court cases, but in some developing countries the police and the courts are either so disorganized that their records are a mess, or so corrupt that one can buy a clean rap sheet, or both.

And of course, some criminals have no convictions or prior arrests because they haven't been caught or got off on some kind of technicality. I would argue that consular officers overseas need to have much more latitude in vetting immigrant visa applicants to weed out people who might commit crimes on our soil.