Politics & Policy

Send Them Home

Illegal immigrant children at an HHS facility in Nogales, Ariz.

President Obama has asked Congress for billions of dollars to address a crisis that is in part the product of his own policies — policies he would like to expand, in fact.

Yes, there are fundamental forces pushing Central Americans, including a startling number of unaccompanied children, to try to cross our borders illegally. But Obama’s non-enforcement of our immigration laws, his amnesty for illegal-alien children, and his vigorous push for immigration reform with a much broader amnesty as its central element have played a big role in creating our current crisis.

So it’s hardly surprising that his proposal supposedly meant to fix the problem would in fact do no such thing. House Republicans should reject the president’s request flat-out and pass an entirely different bill, aimed at stemming the tide of illegal immigration rather than reinforcing a system that contributed to this crisis. One branch of government, which controls the purse strings, needs to show it’s serious about this problem.

The White House is asking for $3.7 billion in emergency funding for the problem, when there isn’t really a funding emergency. Most of the costs of the surge have been placed on HHS, which deals with housing child detainees and happens to be the second largest cabinet department. It, like the other federal agencies involved, has plenty of funds to deal with the crisis for now.

There are numerous policies Americans would support that don’t cost very much and would seriously address illegal immigration; essentially none of them are in the president’s funding request. His priorities are clear enough: There’s noticeably more money allocated to housing and caring for illegal immigrants here than to prosecuting and removing them.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans have been slow to suggest their own ideas and don’t have a great track record on this issue. Their efforts to beef up the anti-illegal-immigration elements of the Senate’s Gang of Eight bill, epitomized by the Corker-Hoeven border-security amendment, have generally involved lots of spending and few useful policy changes.

Policies that could reduce future illegal immigration abound. Republicans should pass more funding for the apprehension and deportation of illegal immigrants in the interior of the country, a priority that this president especially has neglected, and push for building new detention facilities near the border and in the interior to hold, rather than catch-and-release, illegal immigrants until they can get a hearing. The mandatory use of E-Verify, suggested by Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), would also help change the fundamental economic incentives that draw people here illegally. None of these policies should be a tough sale to a public that’s much more concerned about illegal immigration than the president is.

There are a couple of good ideas in the president’s request. He proposes a small amount of funding for more immigration judges, which would help reduce the deportation backlog (though unfortunately, and potentially illegally, it’s accompanied by money to pay for illegal aliens’ legal defense). There’s also a modest amount of money for programs to break up smuggling networks in Central America that bring illegals here. Such programs can be tremendously cost-effective and deserve more funding. But any bill the House passes to fund these measures should be aimed at reorienting our immigration-enforcement policies to prevent the president from abusing the system as he has.

Obama has backed off from changing the Wilberforce Act of 2008 so that authorities won’t be prevented from deporting illegally arrived children. The Wilberforce Act was an effort by a Democratic Congress to address human trafficking — a serious problem — that has had the unintended effect of pushing the Border Patrol to hand over unaccompanied minors to HHS for more or less permanent resettlement. Such children should be subjected to expedited removal by law enforcement; the law makes this harder for a large number of them at the moment.

Fixing this, like providing more funding for various parts of the enforcement bureaucracy, is necessary but not sufficient. President Obama, ever solicitous of his far-left base and ethnic pressure groups, is loath to enforce our immigration laws. The problems his policies have created are something he will not face (quite literally: He refuses to visit the border). Congress must try to get the law enforced and prevent him from continuing his preferred policies. It’s the only way to solve the current crisis and start reducing the flow of illegal immigration.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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