Recently, President Obama caused a stir by insisting that he legally doesn't have the power to stop deportations of undocumented immigrants. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't weigh in on whether or not that's actually true. Rather, it's important to note that the weight of the evidence argues persuasively that Obama has no interest in helping undocumented immigrants, regardless of whether or not he actually can.
This is building off a previous post I wrote about how President Obama doesn't care about the plight of illegal immigrants. It's textbook liberal Democrat myth. To summarize that post:
- Advocating for immigration reform does not make you a liberal. President Reagan signed into law that eventually gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants. John McCain proposed an immigration reform bill that would have provided amnesty to undocumented immigrants in 2008, shortly before winning the Republican nomination to run for President. In 2007, President George W. Bush tried (and failed) to push another bill that would have granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants. Senator Obama helped to kill that bill.
- When, as President, Obama released an immigration reform bill in early 2013, he did so only grudgingly. United States law requires green card holders to wait 5 years before becoming a citizen; the amnesty bill Reagan signed into law required undocumented immigrants to wait an additional 18 months. Obama's plan required undocumented immigrants to wait an additional eight years! Obviously, Obama has to expect his proposal to be the left-most point of the debate; any compromise with Republicans will thus be further to the right than his original proposal. Obama is a smart man; he knows this to be true. That is precisely what he wants to happen. Either Obama and his entire team of advisors are so stupid that they can't game out politics further than an armchair blogger--or he wants a very right-wing immigration reform plan. Remember, he's already in his second term and doesn't need to worry about reelection.
- Others have pointed out that Obama claimed throughout his first term that he could not legally order ICE to defer deportation action against undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents as children (the so-called "DREAMers"). Then, while running for reelection in 2012, he suddenly ordered ICE to do exactly that, with no legal challenges or consequences whatsoever. As I pointed out, there is no doubt that he did so to help win reelection.
- Even Republicans have a modicum of understanding for the situation of people whose parents brought them across the border as young children--and who thus know no other country as "home." It's very difficult to attack a decision to protect this small fraction of undocumented immigrants. His decision to create a loophole for just DREAMers took very little courage.
All right then, let's take a look at what immigration enforcement has looked like under the Obama administration. Reminder: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security; obviously, Obama appoints the head of DHS and is thus directly responsible for the general direction of ICE efforts, even if he isn't responsible for specific initiatives. Under Obama's leadership, ICE will have deported 2 million people by 2014--in just six years, Obama will have deported more people than were deported from the years 1892 and 1996--combined. In the eight years he was president, George W. Bush deported 2 million undocumented immigrants; Obama will have managed to deport that number of undocumented immigrants in just five years(!). And, the US spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement categories combined, and illegal border re-entry is the most prosecuted federal crime. This isn't a symptom of increased undocumented immigration; undocumented immigration has been on a steady decline since 2008, shortly before Obama was inaugurated. It doesn't have to be this way.
It's worth pausing to note that Congress controls budgeting, and Obama doesn't necessarily have a say in all of this. Nevertheless, if this isn't the outcome Obama wanted, why did he appoint an immigration enforcement hawk to head up DHS? Does anyone really think Obama was surprised when he learned ICE was setting deportation quotas? Indeed, Obama controls Department of Justice priorities; if he can order federal prosecutors to disobey (an extremely unjust) federal law in order to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison, he can at least order federal prosecutors to shift resources away from prosecuting undocumented immigration. Clearly, Obama has no qualms about bending the rules to prevent a perceived injustice; it's just that he doesn't see immigration law as being as unjust as mandatory minimums (except, as outlined in my previous post, when it's electorally necessary). In sum, Obama isn't an immigration dictator, but he isn't powerless, either.