The Great Debate

Revising Obama’s ‘deporter in chief’ policy

In response to angry complaints from the Latino community about the administration’s deportation policies, President Barack Obama ordered a review in March “to see how to conduct enforcement more humanely.” At the same time, however, White House officials said the administration would neither suspend deportations nor expand the opportunities to stay for illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.

That will not mollify his critics. Nor should it.

In a February speech, Obama had spoken movingly and from personal experience about the damage done to black and Latino young men by the loss of a father and the appallingly high number of fatherless homes.  Yet a month earlier, immigration officials had deported Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez. He “had been in the country for 16 years,” according to the New York Times,had no criminal record, paid taxes and was the primary breadwinner for his children – one an American citizen, the other [son] an immigrant who is here legally.”

In Obama’s five years in office, his administration has deported nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants, largely Latinos — reaching a new high of nearly 420,000 in fiscal year 2012. It took President George W. Bush his entire two terms to deport as many people as Obama has in five.

By one estimate, 200,000 parents of children born in the United States were deported between 2010 and 2012, and 5,000 children are now in foster care. Today’s policies are expected to put 15,000 more children into foster homes by the end of 2016.

After advocacy groups complained in August 2011, Obama announced that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) would focus on deporting serious criminals only — including those guilty of murder, rape, and drug trafficking. Yet, a New York Times study of 3.2 million deportations over 10 years shows that only 20 percent of the deportations involved serious crimes. The largest increase in deportations since Obama took office involved “illegal immigrants whose most serious offense was listed as a traffic violation” — from 43,000 such deportations during the last five years of the Bush administration to 193,000 during Obama’s tenure.

At the crossroads for immigration reform

Always uncertain, House of Representatives action on immigration reform now appears definitively on off mode for 2014.

That’s because House Republicans loudly denounced Speaker John Boehner’s most recent effort to chart a way forward by proposing principles for legislation. They saw the specter of divisive infighting when what they want is a united front for their November re-election bids.

In shelving immigration action, the speaker sidestepped the problem of intraparty strife. He argued instead that his caucus could not trust President Barack Obama to implement any new immigration enforcement measures Congress would pass. This claim, however, overlooks the enormity of what successive Congresses and administrations, under both Republicans and Democrats, have accomplished in immigration enforcement — including throughout the Obama presidency.