Politics & Policy

A Long Way from Border Security

President Obama continued his reelection campaign Tuesday with a speech on immigration in El Paso. While everyone knows “comprehensive immigration reform” has no chance of passage, the White House is concerned that Hispanic voters have grown disenchanted with the administration’s failure to extract an illegal-alien amnesty from Congress. The fear is that they will stay home next November, potentially delivering Florida and other key states to the Republican nominee.

His comments in El Paso simply repeated the message of these earlier meetings — the administration is aggressively enforcing immigration laws, and therefore it’s time to move on and enact an amnesty for the illegal aliens already here.

The key passage was this, speaking of Republican immigration hawks: “You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol.  Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol.  Or they’ll want a higher fence.  Maybe they’ll need a moat.  Maybe they want alligators in the moat.  They’ll never be satisfied.”

Aside from the graceless alligator reference (actually, we’d prefer crocodiles), this gets at the key problem amnesty advocates face. They find immigration enforcement, as such, so distasteful that each small advance toward better security prompts them to ask, like children on a long trip, “Are we there yet? Are we finished with the enforcement? Can we have our amnesty now?”

But when we look at the reality of immigration enforcement under this administration, we see that we are not there yet.

The president boasted that “we are deporting those who are here illegally” and, in fact, deportations have been at record levels the past two fiscal years, at close to 400,000. But another, and more complete, way to look at deportations is that their total number increased by 100 percent during the Bush administration, and have been flat — no increase — during Obama’s tenure. The reason for this is simple — the White House has not requested increased funding for detention space to hold illegal immigrants while they’re being processed or their appeals heard; with more space, they could deport more illegal aliens.

Even the boast of focusing on criminals for deportation hides a disturbing trend. The Obama administration has effectively redefined violation of immigration law as a secondary offense, something that, on its own, you won’t be removed for, but which might have consequences if you break other (presumably more important) laws. In his own words yesterday, the president said he wants to deport only “violent offenders and people convicted of crimes — not just families, not just folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.”

The president’s claims of attaining border security are similarly both true and false. He correctly says the Border Patrol has some 20,000 agents, double the level in 2004. But he doesn’t point out that this is still smaller than the NYPD, and these agents must patrol not just the 2,000-mile border, but also our much longer, albeit less dangerous, border with Canada. If all Border Patrol agents were on the Mexican border, and they did nothing but stand on the border, we would still have an average of only two or three agents per mile per shift.

Likewise, the president said “The fence is now basically complete.” That depends on what the meaning of “fence” is. No more than 2 percent of the southern border has a double-layer fence of the sort Congress intended when it passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006. And much of what passes for fencing is really just vehicle barriers, obstacles your grandmother would have little trouble navigating.

The president also said “we’re going after employers who knowingly exploit people and break the law.” Again, yes and no. Immigration authorities have undertaken a large number of audits of employer personnel files to identify illegal workers — but then merely require firms to fire them, scrupulously avoiding any situation where they might have to be arrested. Audits like this, in tandem with other measures, can be useful, but for this administration audits are the replacement for other measures, like worksite raids, which have all but stopped.

If the president is concerned that immigration hawks haven’t been specific enough about what they want as a precondition to a debate on amnesty, here are some possible benchmarks he can work toward. Meeting them would go a long way toward easing fears that another amnesty would simply be a replay of the 1986 fiasco, where the illegals got green cards but the promises of future enforcement were abandoned:

  • Full implementation of the Secure Communities program, which helps to identify illegals who have committed crimes. Such implementation must include the resolution of the court challenges that will be mounted against it.

  • Enactment of E-Verify for all new hires — and its implementation and its successful navigation of the inevitable legal onslaught planned by the ACLU–Chamber of Commerce axis.

  • Elimination of those legal immigration categories (for adult siblings and adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens) that drive chain migration.

  • Halving of the illegal population to, say, “only” 5 million.

Others may select more or fewer or different benchmarks. But in any event, the answer to the question “Are we there yet?” is: No — we’ve barely pulled out of the driveway.


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