On June 30, 2010, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, issued a memo to the agency that reflected the Obama administration’s oft repeated intent to focus removal efforts on serious offenders. Morton noted:
In light of the large number of administrative violations the agency is charged with addressing and the limited enforcement resources the agency has available, ICE must prioritize the use of its enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal resources to ensure that the removals the agency does conduct promote the agency's highest enforcement priorities, namely national security, public safety, and border security.
Coupled with last year’s announcement that ICE would not engage in the kind of major worksite raids that became common during the Bush administration, the “Morton Memo” potentially marks a new phase in the enforcement of immigration law. Moreover, the memo gives us insight into the Obama administration’s approach to prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement.Read more...
As part of its strategy to gain support for comprehensive immigration reform, the administration has continually touted its enforcement accomplishments. In fact, over the last two years, the Obama administration has committed itself to a full-court press to demonstrate how committed the administration is to removing criminals and others who remain in the country without proper documentation. They have continued to use the enforcement programs of the previous administration, including partnering with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify, detain, and deport immigrants. However, in doing so, they have lost the ability to fully control their own enforcement priorities and enforcement outcomes, and the results have demonstrated that the state and local partners are not necessarily committed to the same priorities.
At an October 6, 2010, press conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had removed more than 392,000 individuals in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, and presented other “record-breaking immigration enforcement statistics achieved under the Obama administration.” In addition to record-breaking overall numbers, Napolitano also announced the “unprecedented numbers of convicted criminal alien removals” in FY 2010. Of the 392,000 removals in FY 2010, more than 195,000 were classified as “convicted criminal aliens,” which was 81,000 more criminal removals than in FY 2008.Read more...
Recent estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has declined by roughly one million since 2007—bringing the total size of the unauthorized population to approximately 11.1 million. Coming after the release of similar estimates by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in January, these figures have provoked considerable speculation as to how much of the decline is attributable to the current recession, and how much is the result of heightened immigration enforcement. DHS, for instance, was quick to take credit for the drop, citing the money and manpower that have been poured into immigration enforcement by the Obama administration. However, immigration researchers were just as quick to point out that unauthorized immigration has always responded to the state of the U.S. economy, and that the downward trend captured by both Pew and DHS matches up closely with the beginning of the recession in December 2007. Read more...
Arizona and the federal government await a decision from a Phoenix district judge on whether enforcement of SB 1070 will move forward on July 29th, or whether all or some parts of the law will be enjoined. Meanwhile, local law enforcement is struggling to interpret SB 1070 and provide training to officers, which could be further complicated if the judge allows only some parts of the law to go forward.
In this new report released today by the Immigration Policy Center, journalist Jeffrey Kaye reveals that "instead of 'statewide and uniform practices' as directed by the governor, Arizona police agencies have developed a patchwork of guidelines based on varying interpretations of the law."
Kaye's reporting includes interviews with police officials, who cite concerns with implementing the new law, and a review of training materials that suggest the implementation of SB 1070 will differ from one jurisdiction to another, and even within police agencies, and "will be burdensome, costly, and distort priorities."
While visiting Phoenix, AZ in late January with a group of evangelical leaders who were in the border region to learn more about immigration, I met an immigrant family struggling to survive in a difficult economy. The father was employed as a mechanic but recently lost his job and lived in constant fear of being separated from his two young children who are U.S. citizens. This man considered moving his family back to Mexico because life was so hard in Phoenix, but was concerned about his two young children who would go back to a country they never knew. They were generous in feeding a group of American visitors delicious homemade Mexican food, as their children ran around the yard, yelling at each other in a mix of Spanish and English. During the same visit, my colleague met an undocumented immigrant woman named Maria whose son was killed by a drunk driver. She cannot press charges, however, because of her undocumented status.Read more...
Immigration Enforcement without Immigration Reform Doesn’t Work
This week, the Senate will consider amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would add thousands of additional personnel along the border (including the National Guard), as well as provide millions of dollars for detention beds, technology, and resources. Yesterday, bowing to pressure, President Obama announced that he would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and request $500 million for additional resources. All of this attention on resources for the border ignores the fact that border enforcement alone is not going to resolve the underlying problems with our broken immigration system.
UPDATED 05/26/10 - Arizona’s controversial new immigration law (SB 1070) is the latest in a long line of efforts to regulate immigration at the state level. While the Grand Canyon State’s foray into immigration law is one of the most extreme and punitive, other states have also attempted to enforce federal law through state-specific measures and sanctions. Oklahoma and Georgia have passed measures, with mixed constitutional results, aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration through state enforcement. Legislators in 45 states introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions[i] in the first quarter of 2010 alone, compared to 570 in all of 2006. Not all state legislation relating to immigration is punitive—much of it falls within traditional state jurisdiction, such as legislation that attempts to improve high school graduation rates among immigrants or funds. The leap into federal enforcement, however, represents a disturbing trend fueled by the lack of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
Supporters of Arizona’s harsh new immigration law claim that it is, in part, a crime-fighting measure. For instance, the bill’s author, Republican State Senator Russell Pearce of Mesa, confidently predicts that the law—which requires police to investigate the immigration status of anyone who appears to be unauthorized—will result in “less crime” and “safer neighborhoods.” However, Sen. Pearce overlooks two salient points: crime rates have already been falling in Arizona for years despite the presence of unauthorized immigrants, and a century’s worth of research has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. While much has been made about kidnappings in Arizona, law-enforcement officials indicate that most of these involve drug smugglers and human smugglers, as well as smuggled immigrants themselves—not the general population of the state. Combating crime related to human smuggling requires more trust between immigrants and the police, not less. Yet the undermining of trust between police and the community is precisely what Arizona’s new law accomplishes. In the final analysis, immigration policy is not an effective means of addressing crime because the vast majority of immigrants are not criminals.