Globe Editorial

With DUI arrest, Obama’s uncle should be subject to deportation

September 1, 2011

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GETTING BEHIND the wheel after drinking heavily is a dangerously irresponsible act. To do so while in the country illegally shows even worse judgment. Deportation should be the expected result in such a case.

President Obama’s uncle, Onyango Obama, was charged last week with drunken driving by Framingham Police. Obama, who likely arrived here as a Kenyan student in the early 1960s, was the subject of a deportation order in 1992. He is currently being held on a federal immigration warrant.

A national debate is under way regarding the proper role of local law enforcement in relation to illegal immigration. Some local police departments don’t want to jeopardize relationships with urban residents merely to help US Immigration and Customs Enforcement resolve administrative cases. But nearly everyone agrees that illegal immigrants who commit violent or serious crimes should go to the top of ICE’s priority list.

A first DUI offense in Massachusetts is a misdemeanor. But the potential for injury or death from any drunken driving incident is significant. Such a charge alone should trigger scrutiny by ICE under the federal Secure Communities program or other tracking system now in use. Technically, a violation isn’t even needed, since Obama is a fugitive who already has undermined the integrity of the immigration system by ignoring a deportation order. That alone can be sufficient to warrant expedited removal.

Deporting someone who’s spent his entire adulthood - almost 50 years - in the United States, working low-paying jobs to support himself, shouldn’t be done lightly. Surely illegal immigrants who pose a threat to national or border security should be a higher priority for ICE agents than Obama, a man in his sixties who has had no reported prior offenses.

There is a crying need for comprehensive reform of immigration laws, including creation of a guest-worker program that would give people like Obama a chance to live here legally. But in the absence of such action, officials have no choice but to enforce the law as it exists.

ICE has limited resources and ordinarily wouldn’t waste money by pursuing elderly illegal immigrants who have been in the country without incident for decades. But Onyango Obama squandered that status by calling police attention to himself. The normal procedures should be followed in this case. If his defense is unpersuasive, he should be deported to Kenya.