Remember when the Obama administration boasted of deporting a record number of illegal immigrants? “When the secretary tells you that the numbers are at an all-time high, that’s straight, on the merits, no cooking of the books,” the president’s then head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement crowed in October 2010.
Earlier that year, the Washington Post reported on a memo suggesting that ICE had set a goal of 400,000 deportations. The document exhorted agents to “Keep up the good work on criminal alien removals” but complained “non-criminal removals are falling short of our goal.”
The memorandum went on to state “the other Agency critical goal of achieving 400,000 removals and returns overall,” later warning they were “well under the Agency’s goal of 400,000″ at that time.
Under increasing pressure from activists frustrated with the president on immigration, record deportations have gone the way of if you like your health plan, you can keep it. The administration is turning the page, just like the Associated Press did with the phrase “illegal immigrant” in its style guide.
“It’s not smart,” President Obama said of immigration enforcement Tuesday. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Interrupted by a heckler shouting “Stop the deportations,” Vice President Joe Biden replied, “We’ll do that too, kid.”
Even conservative Republicans have started bashing deportation.
Nobody wants deportation to be the face of American immigration policy. The alternative to mass legalization programs — which some describe as comprehensive immigration reform, others as amnesty — isn’t mass deportations.
But some of the rhetoric from activists protesting the Obama administration’s illegal alien removals comes awfully close to suggesting deportation is an illegitimate policy tool altogether. Some will concede that criminal aliens should be removed from the country — even as they appear to be protesting their removal — but nobody should be kicked out merely for being here illegally.
One group says there should be not one more deportation, full stop: “Together we say: not one more family destroyed, not one more day without equality, not one more indifferent reaction to suffering, not one more deportation.”
This is crazy. A much stronger case can be made that the United States incarcerates too many people, so sentencing laws should be reformed and vices should be decriminalized. Imprisonment breaks up families and causes suffering. But no serious person would argue that not one more person should be incarcerated until all these problems are solved.
Barbara Jordan, a heroine of the 1960s civil rights movement who became the first black woman elected to Congress from the South, chaired Bill Clinton’s commission to reform immigration in the 1990s. Jordan understood something about immigration and deportation that many contemporary liberals do not.
“Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave,” the Texas Democrat said. “The top priorities for detention and removal, of course, are criminal aliens. But for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process.”
Sometimes, when you have over 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. and more than 100 million people worldwide who say they would like to move here, that means people are deported simply for being here illegally.
In 2013, 59 percent of deportees were convicted of a crime, and a third were felons, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Add in repeat immigration violators, illegal border crossings and immigration fugitives, and you get 98 percent of the people deported last year.
None of them should have been deported? To answer in the affirmative is to argue against borders and sovereignty, as well as law and order.
Obama has gotten more heat on the left for being “deporter-in-chief” than for essentially adopting Romneycare as his health plan rather than the public option or single payer, launching a war without congressional approval, or raising millions from the Wall Street fat cats he bailed out.
How much of it is deserved is open to debate. The Washington Post reported on the unconventional methods the administration employed to achieve its deportation record, including counting some 19,000 immigrants who had left the previous fiscal year. The Center for Immigration Studies pointed out that they arrived at these numbers as interior enforcement was declining.
“In 2012, the year the Obama administration claimed to break enforcement records, more than one-half of removals attributed to ICE were the result of Border Patrol arrests that would never have been counted as a removal in prior years,” writes CIS’ Jessica Vaughan.
Obama’s attempt at defining deportations down notwithstanding, he came to the same conclusion George W. Bush finally did in his second term: they would never have any credibility on an amnesty for enforcement exchange if they didn’t at least somewhat step up immigration enforcement. So they did.
Now the Obama administration can abandon that stepped up enforcement and, as Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer put it to The New York Times, “greatly curtail deportations” if congressional Republicans won’t pass an immigration bill.
We’ll see how that reversal pans out.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.