Revised Deportation Policy Focuses On Violent Criminals, National Security Threats
Yesterday the Obama Administration announced changes to deportation policies for illegal immigrants that actually make sense, which of course means that they’re being denounced vociferously by opponents of any concessions on immigration:
The Obama administration announced Thursday that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.
The new policy is expected to help thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as young children, graduated from high school and want to go on to college or serve in the armed forces.
White House and immigration officials said they would exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to focus enforcement efforts on cases involving criminals and people who have flagrantly violated immigration laws.
Under the new policy, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, can provide relief, on a case-by-case basis, to young people who are in the country illegally but pose no threat to national security or to the public safety.
Under the new policy, the government will review 300,000 cases of people in deportation proceedings to identify those who might qualify for relief and those who should be expelled as soon as possible.
White House officials said the new policy could help illegal immigrants with family members in the United States. The White House is interpreting “family” to include partners of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Richard Socarides, a New York lawyer who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, said, “The new policy will end, at least for now, the deportations of gay people legally married to their same-sex American citizen partners, and it may extend to other people in same-sex partnerships.”
J. Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the initiative would keep immigrant families together. “It is consistent with the teaching of the church that human rights should be respected, regardless of an immigrant’s legal status,” he said.
Cecilia Muñoz, a White House official who helped develop the new policy, said officials would suspend deportation proceedings in low-priority cases that, for example, involve “military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel.”
Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell, said the new policy could also benefit “illegal immigrants who were stopped for traffic violations and thrown into deportation proceedings, as well as people whose only violation of immigration law is that they stayed beyond the expiration of their visas or worked here illegally.” Ms. Napolitano said her agency and the Justice Department would do the case-by-case review of all people in deportation proceedings.
Critics of any kind of immigration reform are, quite obviously, not happy with the administration, which they are essentially, and incorrectly, calling it a form of amnesty:
The top House Republican on the Judiciary Committee said the move is part of a White House plan “to grant backdoor amnesty to illegal immigrants.”
“The Obama administration should enforce immigration laws, not look for ways to ignore them,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican. “The Obama administration should not pick and choose which laws to enforce. Administration officials should remember the oath of office they took to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land.”
In the blogosphere, Daniel Horowitz, Tina Korbe, and Rodney Graves all essentially accuse the Obama Administration of the same thing, refusing to obey the law and defying the will of Congress. I’ll let Horowitz speak for the group:
This unprecedented abdication on the part of the president begs the question – what sort of message does this convey to our youth regarding the inviolability of the rule of law?
What other laws will this president refuse to execute faithfully? Will he direct the EPA to enforce cap and trade, or instruct the DOI to block the issuance of drilling permits? Oh, he is already doing that.
And, most importantly, if the president is above the law, then why should any of us be compelled to adhere to laws that we regard as undesirable or unfair? If Obama can refuse to enforce his core constitutional duties, why can’t we disregard his individual insurance mandate – a law that is an anathema to the constitution?
Not only has this president refused to uphold our immigration laws; he has thwarted the states and law enforcement agencies from doing so. He has taken the unprecedented step of siding with foreign nations and suing two of our states for upholding the laws that he refuses to recognize. This is the most profound and dangerous form of extremism in our government today, as it undermines the very core of our political system.
What Horowitz and the other critics fail to recognize, though, is that the Administration is merely exercising the broad discretion that immigration law gives to the Executive Branch when it comes to enforcement decisions. As it stands now, the law gives Immigration Judges, and ultimately the head of the Department of Homeland Security for whom the work, significant discretion in deportation proceedings, especially when the person involved has lived in the United States continuously for a long period of time and has no criminal record. (A fairly good summary of the process can be found here.) Given the tremendous backlog in immigration deportation cases, a backlog that continues to grow year-by-year as Congress continues to refuse to provide sufficient funding to the Immigration Court system, it seems to me to make eminent sense to concentrate resources on cases that deal with people who have a criminal record, who have continually flouted immigration laws, or who may pose a threat to national secutrity.
As The Cato Institute’s Daniel Griswold points out, this is a decision that should be viewed favorably by the Tea Party crowd, if they were consistent in their small-government rhetoric:
Tea Partiers, of all people, should understand this concept: The federal government’s resources are limited and should be focused on its core duties of administering justice and protecting basic rights. In that light, the Obama administration made a sensible decision this week to concentrate on deporting illegal immigrants who threaten the health and safety of Americans.
At the latest count, there are still 11 million people living in the United States without government authorization. The government would be incapable of deporting them all, and even if it could, it would cause tens of billions of dollars in damage to the American economy, as Cato research has demonstrated. Even the 300,000 illegal immigrants currently being processed through the deportation pipeline are clogging the system and drawing resources away from more important business.
Viewed in the light of this evidence, the Administration’s policy change seems like a step in the right direction. It’s better to concentrate on the immigrants who would actually harm us rather than the guy who just wants to come here to make a better life for himself. In the end, though, it’s only a temporary band-aid. We need comprehensive immigration reform that includes increased border protection, a guest worker visa program, and, yes, a path to legal status for people who are currently here illegally, have made lives for themselves, and are contributing to their community. Given the current views on immigration inside the Republican Party typified by the reaction to this rather moderate policy change, though, it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to come up with an kind of consensus on that issue any time soon.