Ken Blackwell: Open Borders Spur Retail Thieves

The crisis of retail theft engulfing American storefronts is a crisis of our immigration policy.

Federal immigration authorities have failed to capture important background information about foreign nationals entering our country through a special visa program. In so doing, they have contributed to a crisis that’s turned American retailers into thunder domes of violence and crime.

Organized retail theft costs retailers billions and contributes to a climate of danger that is gripping consumers and workers. Unlike shoplifting, organized retail theft involves criminal gangs skilled at stealing inventory at volume for resale in other markets. These criminals vary in sophistication, from small time thieves hawking stolen power drills online to international syndicates tied to drug trafficking and money laundering.

The visa waiver program allows citizens of 41 countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. Participant countries must share background information, such as criminal histories, with our immigration authorities and extend the same entry privileges to our citizens.

Criminals from all over the world are exploiting this system to steal from American retailers. Call it crime tourism.

Criminals from Chile are prime offenders. Chilean burglary cells ripping heady crime jaunts across America have been tied to hundreds of home break-ins and mass theft of inventory. One Chilean thief, operating as part of a crew, was arrested in southern California after stealing $75,000 worth of merchandise from a Lululemon, according to local press. The report links the individual and his to two jewelry store robberies, the proceeds of which passed $1 million.

Even when these offenders are apprehended, bringing them to justice is difficult. Prosecutors say the Chilean government isn’t complying with its obligation to share criminal background information relative to program participants. That’s a problem because criminal history is an important factor at sentencing.

“14 Chilean nationals have pled to a range [of sentences] from probation to credit time served to two years in state prison over the ardent objection of Orange County prosecutors,” the Orange County district attorney’s office said earlier this year. “Another seven defendants have bailed out of custody with no criminal history available to argue for increased bail.”

That statement adds that Chilean defendants pose “a uniquely frustrating challenge because the Chilean government has refused to provide us with the criminal history of Chilean citizens utilizing the ESTA VISA Program to enter the United States.”

These anecdotes accurately relate the scale and sophistication of organized retail theft. As I have previously written, these organized retail gangs are integrated into the world’s most dangerous criminal networks. Michael Krol, a senior law enforcement officer with the Homeland Security Department’s investigative arm, testified to this effect before a congressional panel on Dec. 12.

“It is widely recognized that 21st century poly-criminal networks diversify their criminal portfolios to increase profitability and influence,” Krol said. “No longer tied to a single criminal scheme or enterprise, it is not uncommon for organized theft groups to be involved in or affiliated with those networks that perpetrate financial fraud, identify theft, human smuggling and trafficking, illicit trade, money laundering, and narcotics and weapons tracking, among many others.”

The good news is that Congress has noticed the problem. Earlier this year, lawmakers from southern California sent a letter to Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging him to tighten up cooperation with Chilean authorities. Former House speaker Kevin McCarthy threatened to defund the program, at least with respect to Chile.

A more expansive audit of the visa waiver program is needed. Reports indicate that organized crime syndicates from all of the world – Romania seems to be another major player – are engaged in retail theft in this country. Immigration authorities should ensure that every country participating in the waiver program is furnishing necessary information about their nationals. No new country should be admitted to the waiver program until we ensure the system is working as intended.

Congressional Republicans must be ready to defund the program with respect to non-compliant nations. Soros prosecutors do enough to accommodate criminals.

Photo credit: By Jonathan McIntoshOwn work, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Ken Blackwell is a Senior Adviser to the Family Research Council and is a former Treasurer of the State of Ohio.

The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.

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