After the 2012 presidential election – the one where Mitt Romney’s call for “self-deportation” drove Latino voters away from the GOP by an historic margin – Republican leaders were falling all over themselves to embrace immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), promised immigration reform would be a “priority” in 2013 and said he was confident Democrats and Republicans would “find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
We all know how that worked out.
Instead of following the lead of the U.S. Senate, which passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform package nearly a year ago, the House has offered the nation little more than feeble excuses for its refusal to act. First, it was the Tea Party-manufactured fiscal crisis which consumed most of September and closed the government for the first two weeks of October. Then, after the government reopened, the House GOP leadership claimed there were not enough days left in the 2013 legislative calendar to schedule a vote on immigration reform (never mind that they control the legislative calendar). Then, in January 2014, shortly after they revealed their “Principles on Immigration Reform” Speaker Boehner, unveiled what is perhaps the lamest excuse of all. The House GOP, so he claimed, could not move immigration reform because “there’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.”
While the Republicans may live in a world of immigration enforcement denial, what’s happening on the ground has not been lost on immigration advocates, some of whom have labeled the President the “Deporter-in-Chief.”
- David Leopold
In order to prop up their partisan political games, House GOP is blatantly ignoring what’s happening in communities all across the country. Despite the hot air emanating from Capitol Hill, there is stone-cold immigration enforcement being meted out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the tune of 1,100 deportations per day. That translates to nearly 400,000 people per year, often at the expense of core American principles such as fairness, equal treatment, and due process. Let’s look at the numbers:
• In the first five years of the Obama administration, 2 million people were deported from the U.S. at a time when illegal immigration is at a 40-year-low.
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• Federal prosecutions of immigration-related offenses are up an astounding 468 percent from 2003, which leads to the administration’s claim it is focusing on criminal rather than ordinary immigrants.
• 430,000 non-citizens a year are locked up in immigration detention facilities at an annual cost to taxpayers of $2 billion.
• Since 2006 Congress has funded a near-doubling of Border Patrol agents.
• Deportations without due process – without any opportunity to see an immigration judge – have risen dramatically and now account for 70 percent of annual deportations.
And while the Republicans may live in a world of immigration enforcement denial, what’s happening on the ground has not been lost on immigration advocates, some of whom have labeled the President the “Deporter-in-Chief” and called on him to stop unnecessary deportations, especially of undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses or children.
The truth is that the heavy-handed enforcement policy dates back nearly a decade to the Bush administration. There are two key statistics in the DHS deportation numbers that illustrate how enforcement has been changed — 1) Voluntary returns, or those caught by U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities when they cross the border but returned to their country without a formal deportation order; and 2) Removals, those who are sent back with a formal order of deportation issued by an immigration judge or immigration officer.
The number of voluntary returns has dropped dramatically since the recession because fewer people are attempting to enter illegally. Additionally, since 2005, DHS has shifted away from voluntary returns, preferring instead to issue formal removal orders which carry more severe legal consequences.
It’s patently absurd to claim the administration is not enforcing the law. What’s clear is that deportations of undocumented immigrants – many of whom have come to America to feed their families – have steadily increased since 2002. What’s also clear is that while the House GOP blocks reform, the broken immigration system is wreaking havoc on the nation, threatening America’s global competitiveness and compromising our core American values of fairness, due process and the rule of law.
The time is now for action on two fronts: the GOP leadership must stop making excuses and move concrete immigration reform legislation to the House floor for a vote, and President Obama must curb the zealous deportation of those who would qualify for reform.
David Leopold is the former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and currently practices immigration law in Cleveland, Ohio. His Twitter handle is @DavidLeopold.