The Corner

Immigration

Without Consequences There Is No Border

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a suspect in Los Angeles in 2017. (Charles Reed/Reuters)

The usual suspects gasped in horror at the president’s tweet Monday that Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.

The reference to millions is basically like Biden’s use of literally — not to be taken literally. In 2017, DHS formally deported (removed is the technical term) about 300,000 foreigners, and another 100,000 were returned (most of them Mexicans or Canadians who are sent back without a formal deportation). So, it’s not going to be millions.

But it isn’t just bloviation, despite claims to the contrary (CNN, for example, called the tweet a populist launchpad for his reelection campaign). What Trump was referring to is a plan by ICE to find and remove recent illegal-immigrant families from Central America who have gone through the whole asylum process, failed to win their cases, were ordered deported (i.e., received a final order of removal), but are still here. As the Washington Post noted, According to Homeland Security officials, nearly all unauthorized migrants who came to the United States in 2017 in family groups remain present in the country. In fact, virtually none of the unaccompanied minors and families who’ve infiltrated across the border since Obama sparked the border crisis in 2012 with his DACA decree has been removed, despite that fact that only a small share of them actually managed to get asylum.

So Central American illegal aliens need only to bring a minor with them across the border, turn themselves in to the Border Patrol, say they fear return, and they’ll not only be released into the U.S. but if they lose their asylum case (or never bother to apply at all, which is true about half the time), they’ll get to stay forever anyway? A more powerful incentive to rush northward cannot be imagined.

And people are responding to the incentives we’ve established. From FY 2017 through May 2019, a total of nearly 300,000 Guatemalan minors and families have been apprehended on the southern border, accounting for nearly 2 percent of the nation’s entire population — and they’re almost all still here. Border arrests for the next few months may not reach May’s figure of more than 130,000 because of the summer heat, but the prospect of de facto permanent residence for anyone who schlepps a kid across the border ensures that the number of people coming will continue to increase (and not just from Central America — smugglers in Africa have figured it out as well).

Only when people in Central America see the failure and return of their compatriots who left for the U.S. will the migration frenzy driving the border emergency abate. The administration has not been unaware of that, and it developed a plan to address it — a plan obstructed by the former DHS and ICE leadership. As the Post describes it:

The Trump administration formulated a plan this year to deter those families through increased arrests and deportations. The Justice Department fast-tracked their cases to obtain thousands of removal orders — many of which were issued when parents failed to appear in court — then referred the families to ICE for arrest and deportation.

ICE drew up a strategy for carrying out those orders in 10 large U.S. cities, but then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello balked, wanting more preparation.

The move frustrated senior Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller. Nielsen and Vitiello were then ousted in April.

It wasn’t really more preparation that Nielsen and Vitiello wanted — they were in a fetal crouch, fearing the optics of children being taken into custody, remembering the child separation fiasco. But, of course, the point of the upcoming initiative will be to deport recently arrived families together, as an object lesson to prospective bogus asylum-seekers.

A source tells me that acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan followed his predecessor’s example and ordered ICE not to carry out the operation, but White House intervention overruled him.

Other steps the administration is taking — pressuring Mexico to keep third-country nationals from getting to the U.S. border and requiring some asylum applicants wait in Mexico until their hearings (so they don’t put down roots in the U.S.) — are also important. But until there are consequences for failing to make your asylum case and being ordered removed, there’s no reason to expect the flow to decrease.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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