The Obama administration and its allies on immigration — both Democrats and Republicans — have justified their call for a “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens by boasting of new, tight control of the border. The message has been that new illegal immigration has effectively come to an end, so it’s time to tie up the loose ends of past mistakes and move forward.
Would that were so.
Instead, the United States is experiencing a surge in illegal immigration, especially in South Texas. A large share of new arrivals are families with children, teenagers traveling alone, and younger children brought here by professional smugglers. In the first five months of this year, 47,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended, double the number for the same period the year before. A Border Patrol memo estimates that up to 90,000 could be apprehended this fiscal year and 140,000 next year.
The administration claims that this surge is driven entirely by outside factors — i.e., poverty and violence in the sending countries, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Because they imagine it to be a refugee flow beyond their control, officials are responding as they would to a humanitarian crisis. The president has directed FEMA to lead the response, with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) housing the unaccompanied minors until family members in the U.S. — legal or illegal — can be found to take the youngsters in.
But this crisis is not simply a response to conditions in Central America, deplorable as they might be. Senator Jeff Sessions correctly asserted that “the rising crisis at the border is the direct and predictable result of actions taken by President Obama.” The administration has essentially halted immigration enforcement in the interior of the country for anyone not a murderer or drug dealer. In the words of John Sandweg, until recently the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero.” Add to this the unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants claiming to have come before their 16th birthday, and you have a powerful magnet for illegal immigration.
The administration response is actually feeding the frenzy. The Justice Department is hiring lawyers to represent the youngsters in immigration court, to maximize the number who will receive formal permission to stay. A federal judge late last year berated the administration for abetting human trafficking by delivering illegal-immigrant children to their illegal-immigrant parents.
Word of Obama’s permissive approach to illegal immigration has filtered south. The New York Times quoted one teenager in Honduras whose mother had sent for him: “If you make it, they take you to a shelter and take care of you and let you have permission to stay.”
The only way to stanch the flow is to change such expectations. All illegal aliens caught at the border must be detained, and the adults prosecuted. Illegal-immigrant parents should be reunited with their illegal-immigrant children and returned as a family unit to their own countries. Border officials must be permitted to exercise the statutory power of “expedited removal” to keep new arrivals out of the immigration-court system and ensure their quick return.
And any talk of amnesty must end until order is restored.