No legalization necessary: When the border-crossing surge of “unaccompanied” (and accompanied) minors from Central America hit the mainstream press, the U.S. had a big debate over whether it was caused by the lure of a possible amnesty — including, Republicans charged, the lure of President Obama’s 2012 executive amnesty (including work permits) for so-called “Dreamers” who crossed the border when young.
Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez countered that coyotes — smugglers– were selling “lies and falsehoods” about what would await illegals when they got here. The Secretary of Homeland Security even wrote an “open letter” to convince Central Americans the “Dreamer” decree — known by the acronym “DACA” — wouldn’t by its terms apply to them. Nor would the then-pending “Gang of 8” legalization. The Democratic “explainer” site Vox argued the 2012 DACA decree couldn’t really explain the surge because the surge began in 2011.
Ah, but maybe the border crossers were anticipating the DACA amnesty, suggested people like me (anti-DACAns). And surely those coming after 2012 were thinking they might be eligible for the next DACA. Some surveys, however, didn’t seem to show this.
The theory on both sides seems to have been that there had to have been a sort of “bonus” offered to potential migrants to lure them to come to the US illegally– something beyond the prospect of a supposedly rigorous life “in the shadows.” But what if the coyotes really weren’t relying on the (true or hyped) promise of a future amnesty to make the sale? What if they were making a simpler, more credible pitch: They’d discovered a new hole in enforcement. If you made it into the interior of the US, you were home free! Obama would not deport you. You might not get amnesty, or work permits, or a scholarship, or welfare benefits or even a drivers license. You’d be stuck as an illegal in Aztlan doing the jobs illegals can do and living the life illegals can live. For Central Americans that might still be a highly appealing life.
Maybe the coyote pitch, in short, wasn’t that illegals would soon not have to live in the shadows. It was that life in the shadows was now within reach!
Support for this theory comes this week from Jessica Vaughan of the Center on Immigration studies, who notes that
According to immigration court records obtained by [a Houston TV station], only a few of the illegal family or child arrivals are qualified to stay in the United States, and the vast majority (91 percent) have simply absconded from their proceedings after release and joined the resident illegal population, where they are no longer a priority for enforcement under the new, expanded “prosecutorial discretion” policies.**
In other words, it doesn’t matter what DACA says, or what the criteria for deportation were under the much-disputed “Wilberforce” Act, as long as those who don’t show up at their hearings and don’t abide by whatever the deportation decision is have no chance of being caught. Yes, they’re 100% illegal — fugitives, even. They might well never qualify for future benefits, including work permits or Gang of 8 amnesties. But those “bonus” legalizing factors are just icing. Life as an illegal is alluring enough.
Of course, it is also more alluring with even the low-percentage threat of deportation reduced even further. As President Obama himself said, even if illegals don’t qualify under either his 2012 Dreamer action or his post-midterm expansion of work permits, “you’re not going to be deported.”
[I]f they’re law-abiding, otherwise, if they’re working, peaceful, then they’re much less likely to deportation now than they would have been in the past.
Living in the shadows just got a bit better. Sure enough, the surge from Central America is starting up again.
The “no legalization necessary” theory also explains the timing of the surge, as Breitbart’s John Sexton has pointed out. Yes, the surge preceded the 2012 DACA decree, with its promise of work permits. But it immediately followed the so-called Morton memos, the initial 2011 announcement that interior enforcement (except for criminals) would be a low priority.
Those who argue that Obama simply pursued the goals of our immigration laws by concentrating on enforcement at the border should consider how this “prioritization,” entailing as it does abandonment of enforcement in the interior, seems to have produced, by itself, more illegal border-crossing, not less. Maybe that’s why Congress never agreed to it.
** — It’s true that immigrants who crossed the border in 2014 — “recent arrivals” — are in theory a priority for deportation under Obama’s new orders, even if they make it to the interior, But how likely is that if the focus of enforcement shifts to the border, and ICE simply stops asking questions about seemingly law-abiding people in the interior? Even if this priority for recent arrivals is actually implemented, next year the ‘recent arrival’ focus will shift to those ordered deported in 2015. The class of 2014 will be grandfathered. All they have to do is wait out the year or two when they’re “hot.” The coyotes are still right.