In last week’s GOP debate, illegal immigration sparked heated exchanges about “amnesty,” the polarizing issue at the center of any reform proposal.
But as Marco Rubio pointed out, the failure of Washington politicians to solve the immigration problem over the past 30 years — primarily their failure to staunch the flow of illegal entry — Americans are so suspicious they will not accept any reform until the problem of illegal entry is solved conclusively.
So the real issue is illegal entry. At New Hampshire town hall meetings before the debate, I asked the candidates if they would restart the deportation of illegal immigrants. Deportation constitutes enforcement of current law, for which the president would have sole power and obligation. Reform and amnesty plans require congressional action.
By law, illegal immigrants who have received a “final removal order” are to be deported. President Obama is not doing so. Indeed, he claims authority to exempt millions from enforcement.
As a result, the number of illegal residents who have been apprehended but not detained or deported has swelled to nearly 2 million, as reflected on the “non-detained docket,” an almost secret list maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. About half of those on the ICE docket have received a final removal order from an immigration court judge.
I asked the candidates whether they would deport those with a final removal order.
Chris Christie answered immediately. “You have to,” he said. “You got to follow the law. I mean, listen, the bottom line is the reason the American people have lost confidence in the system is because no one is following the law.”
Rubio responded without hesitation: “Sure. We’re going to enforce the law.” In his speech to a town hall gathering, Rubio had said, “As the son of immigrants, I can tell you that enforcing immigration laws is not anti-immigrant.”
He said the same in the debate, and went on to observe that the U.S. is the most immigrant-friendly nation on earth, admitting about one million legal immigrants every year.
Ted Cruz answered succinctly: “Yes.” When I asked Jeb Bush, “Would you deport them,” he replied, “I would,” adding “you can create a deterrent effect.” John Kasich’s staff sent a statement via email containing this reply, “People who already have been ordered by a judge to leave should leave . . .” Via a staff email, Ben Carson declined to answer the question.
No need to ask Donald Trump, who has said he’ll deport all 11 million to 12 million illegal residents. It’s a ludicrous position that no other candidate supports. No one else intends a wholesale roundup.
The largely unified GOP position on deportation reflects an understanding that law enforcement relies upon deterrence as much as prevention. All candidates have plans to improve prevention with enhanced border security and new policies to monitor visitors on visas.
But it is impossible to prevent all illegal activity or to catch everyone who breaks any law — from misdemeanor to capital crime. We couldn’t afford the legions of law enforcement officers to do so. Nor would we want to live in the police state entailed.
So, we rely upon punishment of those who are caught and convicted to deter others from committing offenses, as Bush observed. Commenting on the numbers, Bush said, “I didn’t know that they are that high.”
The takeaway is twofold. First, contrary to the myth that “rounding up millions is an impossible task,” it is not only possible, it’s already been done: Obama’s “catch and release” policy begins with capture, right?
The second is that the Obama administration has been hiding these high numbers. The most recent statistics for the non-detained docket are for 2013, released in March 2014: 1.8 million listed; 48% with a final removal order. Since then, searches of the ICE website and multiple inquiries to the ICE Office of Public Affairs have yielded nothing more current.
This goes to Rubio’s and Christie’s points about loss of confidence in the system. Americans know the law is not being enforced, and they know the Obama administration is hiding that fact.
The extent of Obama’s non-enforcement is startling. In 2015, ICE carried out only 235,000 “removals,” including 135,000 convicted criminals (that’s enforcement of criminal law) and 90,000 non-Mexicans captured by Border Patrol and turned over to ICE for removal. (That’s interdiction, not deportation.) That leaves only 10,000 deported for violation of our immigration laws.
Moreover, Obama has attempted to go beyond non-enforcement with executive orders formally shielding immigrants from enforcement. His latest order goes even beyond that and extends to five million illegal residents work permits and other benefits. That is the exact opposite of deterrence.
Federal courts have blocked Obama’s latest order. The case is now before the Supreme Court.
The court will decide on Obama’s executive order. The 2016 election will test whether Americans appreciate that the genuine rule of the law requires deterrence as well as prevention, that even the strictest border security can’t prevent all illegal entry and that sometimes painful deportation is necessary to complete the mission.
As appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on Feb. 4, 2016.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.