Last month’s Homeland Security policy memos implementing President Trump’s executive orders on illegal immigration elicited the inevitable charges that the policy is un-American and that “rounding up millions” is a quixotic impossibility. Both charges are empty.
Trump is enforcing long-standing U.S. law, which is any American president’s first duty, and, while reports from around the country confirm that he is ramping up enforcement, he has abandoned his campaign cry that “they all gotta go,” all the estimated 11 million or more illegal immigrants.
At more moderate scale, Trump’s policy becomes eminently feasible with a reasonable increase in enforcement resources, while still delivering on the central promise of his campaign. Abandonment of that promise would be suicidal for Trump.
Enforcement begets respect for the law. It establishes deterrence, the key dynamic which discourages the violation of any and all laws. Research (and common sense) shows that, as more violators are caught and penalties are meted out, fewer people violate the law.
Trump’s embrace of deterrence contrasts with Obama’s virtual abandonment of it, starkly separating the two president’s immigration policies. Otherwise, their policies are almost identical. Trump, like Obama, is prioritizing the deportation of convicted criminals, and he, like his predecessor, is explicitly exempting about 750,000 “Dreamers” brought here as young children.
And Trump is temporarily exempting the estimated 5 million illegal immigrants who are parents of American citizens or legal residents (so-called DACA parents).
Apart from these categorical similarities, the two presidents’ overall policies couldn’t be more different. Obama sought to make all illegal immigrants feel safe, with the support of many sanctuary cities and states.
Trump’s DHS memo, on the other hand, puts all illegal immigrants on notice “Except as specifically noted above (“Dreamers” and, temporarily, DAPA parents), the Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” The DHS release says it will enforce immigration laws “against all removable aliens.”
Under the Obama Administration, there was no realistic chance of being apprehended and deported, and illegal immigrants knew it. Not only was Obama’s language all about nonenforcement, but the combined number of “returns” (turnarounds at the border) and “removals” (actual deportations) declined from about 1.2 million in 2008 to about 340,000 in 2016, albeit due, in part, to reduced illegal border crossings.
Immigration statistics are more confusing than most, leading to Obama’s undeserved reputation as “The Deporter in Chief.” To comply with anti-human trafficking laws, hundreds of thousands apprehended near the border by Border Patrol were not “returned” but were turned over to Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) and then “removed,” converting “returns” into “removals” under Obama.
In 2016, three-quarters of Obama’s 240,000 deportations were “removals at the border,” i.e. what would have been classified as “returns” under his predecessor. The Obama Administration justified its feckless enforcement with a claim of not having the resources to deport more than 400,000 annually, yet it didn’t requested more resources in its annual budget requests.
In addition, Obama publicized an easy-to-follow blueprint for evasion. It prioritized apprehensions within 100 miles of the border and within 14 days of illegal entry.
So, illegal immigrants knew to move immediately away from the border and keep a low profile for a couple of weeks. In many ways, any noncriminal deported under Obama was either unusually unlucky or unusually inept.
Not only were the odds of apprehension negligible, but Obama followed a policy of “catch and release.” As a result, today, there are about 2 million illegal immigrants on the “nondetained docket,” a list of those apprehended, but not detained or deported. Without catch-and-release, “millions would have been rounded up.”
Trump’s policy is the direct opposite on all counts, and it is eminently reasonable. In addition to prioritizing apprehension of criminals, he should prioritize the deportation of those who’ve received a “final removal order.” These violators number almost 1 million today. They have had their day in court. There’s no reason not to deport them.
Indeed, during last year’s primaries, virtually all the leading Republican candidates went on the record saying they would deport them. When I asked Jeb Bush, he said “I would. You can create a deterrent effect.”
If President Trump does so, he should be able to count on solid GOP support in Congress, including the funding to hire more Border Patrol and ICE agents and more immigration court prosecutors, judges and staff.
In the primaries, Marco Rubio said he would deport them, adding, “As the son of immigrants, I can tell you that enforcing immigration laws is not anti-immigrant.” He continued, saying that enforcement against illegal immigrants doesn’t make America anti-immigrant, because, after all, we admit about 1 million legal immigrants every year, more than any other nation on Earth.
As appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on March 17, 2017.
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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.