In a press conference at the city marshal's office today, City Marshal Brian Pope accused sheriff candidate Mark Garber of inviting undocumented immigrants into the United States to file workman’s compensation claims without fear of deportation.
Pope further claimed that policies by Sheriff Mike Neustrom restrict the marshal’s office and other law enforcement agencies from arresting and booking undocumented immigrants into the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on misdemeanor charges. His "smoking gun" is a video of Garber on Honduran television, advising immigrants to seek the aid of an attorney should they be injured while in the United States. Pope then pivoted his statement to connect Garber’s Honduras interview with Neustrom’s misdemeanor booking policy, though that connection was revealed as tenuous by some softball questioning from the press core.
“He [Neustrom] has a policy that we cannot book misdemeanor offenders into the parish jail, not only with immigrants but common offenders in the city of Lafayette. It’s causing a problem. We’re not able to track these people because they’re not being booked into jail. They’re not getting fingerprinted or pictured. That’s why we have so many warrants within the city court system," Pope opined. "That’s just city court. That’s not including district court.”
When pressed to elaborate on how Neustrom’s policies prevented Lafayette law enforcement from booking undocumented immigrants, Pope quickly clarified that the policy is not limited to that population, but applies generally to misdemeanor crimes and criminals throughout Lafayette Parish.
Suddenly, the bizarre presser felt like a failed magic trick. Pope’s insistence that the press need only “watch the video” did little to buttress his claim. Pope further suggested in his remarks that a Garber administration would turn Lafayette into a “de facto sanctuary for illegal immigrants.”
Let’s put this altogether. There exists a policy of lenience on all misdemeanor crimes at the parish's (over-crowded) jail, according to Pope, which may result in some unspecified number of unbooked and un-tracked undocumented immigrants. There is video evidence of Garber advising the Honduran public to get a lawyer if injured in Louisiana, and to not fear deportation when doing so. Therefore, Pope claims, Garber wants Central American immigrants to come to Louisiana and seek safe haven and we are in immediate danger for it? If you can logically connect the premises from that conclusion, I have a job for you reconciling quantum micro-physics and Newtonian macro-physics.
This defies any serious reasoning, and it even appears that Pope knew that going in.
Pope seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the enterprise, not readily able to sustain his concocted connection between Neustrom’s policies and Garber’s activity in Honduras. Lanie Lee Cook from The Acadiana Advocate took a minute to get Pope to clarify who he was referring to when he claimed there were 1,000 open warrants in city court for misdemeanor offenses.
Cook: Do you have any estimate for how many of those 1,000 warrants are undocumented immigrants?
Pope: The report I got is all "other." It’s that race.
Cook: It’s what?
Pope: That race. They call them “others.”
We’re investigating the origin of that statistic, but for now it’s worth noting that Hispanic and Latino offenders are routinely designated “white” when booked into LPCC. Assuming Pope's stats are right, it still doesn't really add up to any foul play on Garber's part, nor does it do much to substantiate a claim that we have a problem with undocumented immigrants in Acadiana.
The political overtone of the event was disconcerting, especially considering it took place in a public facility with our city marshal flanked by his brass. Given the content of the presser, Pope’s statements could easily be seen as a political foray on public dollars. That’s to say nothing of his relationship with candidate Chad Leger, which raises some question as to the source of his "evidence" and the motive behind his remarks.
Much of what Leger has touted about his promise as a law enforcement leader is his ability to unite Lafayette’s law enforcement leadership via his friendly personal history with Brian Pope among others. While Pope declined to endorse a candidate in the conference, he made it very clear that the source of this video was a “concerned member of law enforcement.” Of course, Pope doesn’t have to be totally in bed with Leger for him to dislike Garber, if his problems build upon Neustrom’s alleged misdemeanor lenience policy and he sees the Neustrom-endorsed Garber as a dangerous candidate.
Subversive politicking aside, the presser had an overtone of nativistic fearmongering.
The transcript of the video, which was included in a press three-page press release issued by Pope (see below), does not translate the questions asked of Garber, and emphasis is added to give the impression that he is laying out a litigious red carpet for illegal Honduran immigrants. Over and over, Pope attempted to connect the presence of undocumented immigrants to a dangerous local atmosphere, and the method was simple contiguity: Talk about immigrants. Talk about crime. Immigrants must be the problem.
He even reported a rumor he heard that the “Northside Walmart” was the “No. 1 destination for shop lifting in the country.” What this had to do, exactly, with the presence of migrant workers, undocumented or not, in Acadiana he didn't say.
“People come here from out of town to steal, because they know they’re not going to jail. And that’s a problem,” Pope said. “I’m not saying they’re all illegal immigrants. I’m just telling you what he [Garber] said. Just watch the video.”
We watched the video. We translated the questions in it (as best we could given the poor audio quality) and to our ears could not hear any indication that Garber’s advice was meant to invite a landfall hurricane of Honduran criminals looking to game Louisiana’s workman’s comp program. He answered some fairly procedural questions regarding what Honduran parents with kids in the U.S. should do should their child be injured while in the United States. That jibes with Garber’s response to the allegations.
“I was hired to represent the estate of a man who was married to a U.S. citizen and was killed on the job,” Garber said in a statement. “I flew to Honduras to personally set up a trust fund for his four daughters so that money went to their education. A local TV station asked me about the laws in the United States and what rights your have at work. I never encouraged anyone to come to this country illegally.”
Pope called on Garber to apologize for his “irresponsible statements.”
Maybe Pope should apologize for his irresponsible use of a public office to play racist smear politics.