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Editorial: Hard cases

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Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 11:34 AM

If the name Karrar Noaman Al Khammasi doesn’t ring a bell, that’s not the worst thing.

A week ago, several Colorado Springs police officers responded to shots fired downtown. They found an armed man, exchanged gunfire, and officer Cem Duzel and the gunman were both wounded.

Duzel, 30, was shot in the head. He’s in critical but stable condition. The gunman, Al Khammasi, 31, was hospitalized for his wounds and is expected to recover.

Days later, several Colorado news outlets reported that Al Khammasi is an immigrant from Iraq who came to the U.S. in 2012 after winning refugee status.

In itself, that is neither here nor there. What’s bad is shooting a police officer, whether you come from Syria or Peoria.Yet in a climate of anxiety about immigrants, when the president insinuates that they are all criminals, you don’t know where the next spark will fly.

Al Khammasi also had compiled an impressive rap sheet in the U.S., according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. He was arrested for drunken driving in 2013. That year, he was also charged with extortion, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree trespassing and was sentenced to two years of probation.

In 2014, he pleaded guilty to felony trespassing and was sentenced to prison for violating the terms of his probation. After his release, he was arrested, in 2017, for allegedly punching a person in the face three times.

This year, he was arrested on a weapons charge after police found a stolen pistol in his motel room.

A Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Al Khammasi had been scheduled for deportation in 2016, until a federal appeals court found, in an unrelated case, that part of the immigration law defining violent crimes was too vague.

It is a bit of a mystery to us why the president hasn’t tweeted about this yet, seeking to make Al Khammasi the poster boy for “bad” refugees and immigrants.

It is still true, of course, that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, but here is one refugee who is demonstrably much more likely.

We’re confident he will be dealt with by our courts. We expect he will go to prison for quite some time and then, someday, be deported back to Iraq. By then, if he’s lucky, no one will remember him there.

If we are honest with ourselves, we really don’t know what we want from DHS these days, whether we want everyone or no one deported, expeditiously or so cautiously that people like Al Khammasi may fall through the cracks.

We know that we want the courts to keep checking the possible overreach of Congress or the president. It’s hard to say we want that even if a police officer may get shot, but it is essential.

What we need is leadership on immigration from the president and Congress – legislation and reform, not tweets and exploitation – before this happens again.

Meanwhile, we have leaders who seem to reason wholly from anecdotes.

Al Khammasi is exceptional in the worst possible way. That’s why we don’t make policies for one person any more than we do for unicorns – because hard cases make bad law.

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