Opinion

Is Obama pro-immigration?

A persistent myth about President Obama is that he is pro-immigration. Obama’s rhetoric may be pro-immigration, but his actions reveal that he is the most anti-immigration president in generations.

Other than offering tepid rhetorical support for comprehensive immigration reform, Obama has done little to expand legal immigration or offer any plan to legalize illegal immigrants presently in the U.S. Instead, his administration is undertaking a massive crackdown on illegal immigrants and their employers.

Last July, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlined the Obama administration’s approach to enforcement of immigration law at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She spent most of her speech bragging about how Obama takes enforcing our nation’s outdated immigration laws more seriously than any president in recent memory.

She detailed the ways in which her department is cracking down on undocumented immigration. The first such effort is electronically and remotely auditing the I-9 records of suspected employers of illegal immigrants. On February 15, Brett Dreyer of the Worksite Enforcement Unit announced that his agency would be investigating 1,000 employers at a time. Their efforts have already resulted in tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants being fired and many U.S. employers being fined.

Napolitano also boasted of the federal government’s repeated success in convincing employers to enroll in E-Verify, an electronic employment verification system that confirms the work eligibility of applicants. According to a recent study by Westat, it fails to identify undocumented workers 54 percent of the time and falsely identifies American citizens as undocumented workers 0.7 percent of the time.

Applied to the over 150,000,000 legal workers in the United States, that error rate would exclude over a million American citizens from legally working — while adding to businesses’ regulatory compliance costs. Bragging about the efficacy of such a system would be funny if so many people’s careers weren’t negatively impacted by it. Only in government would an error rate that would deny over a million people the ability to work be considered a success.

Obama isn’t neglecting border enforcement. Last year, he requested an additional $600 million in supplemental funding to pay for 1,000 more border patrol agents, 160 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators, 30 more port officers, 20 more K9 teams, and two Predator drones that will be deployed along the border. He also sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the border.

During fiscal year 2010, Obama’s ICE deported a record 390,000 persons. That is up from 298,000 in 2009 and more than double the 2005 number of 180,000. The enormous increase in deportations has occurred primarily under a Democrat president and a Democrat-controlled Congress.

Any opponent of government intervention through Obamacare or cap-and-tax should oppose forcing employers to sign up for the costly E-Verify program. Many proponents of E-Verify stand shoulder to shoulder with those who want a national biometric ID card to make the program more effective.

For many anti-immigration pundits, immigration is the health of the state. But government rules regulating the movement of people, labor, and entrepreneurs have become more effective and destructive to American capitalism over the last decade. President Obama is responsible for most of the increased controls and his opponents and supporters should recognize it.

Alex Nowrasteh is a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.