The Strange Politics Of The American Immigration Debate

So Campus Progress has a well done infographic contrasting the deportation numbers in a given month with president Obama's rhetoric on immigration policy. The administration has said it is focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who are a threat to public safety, but in practice there are far more non-criminal removals than criminal ones:


Sandra Khalifa and Eddie Garcia observe that:

So far this year, deportations continue to be inexcusably equal for non-criminal and criminal immigrants alike [PDF]—and in fact, in the last three months more non-criminal immigrants have been deported than immigrants convicted of serious crimes. In the months of March, April and May this year, ICE deported 11,639 more non-criminal immigrants than those with actual criminal records, bringing the total number of non-criminal removals to 55,000.

Yet, the current status of our immigration debate is that Obama insists he's prioritizing the deportation of criminals while actually deporting far more non-criminals. Republicans seize on the administration's conciliatory rhetoric to accuse it of implementing "de-facto amnesty" through prosecutorial discretion because they want to pretend that it's possible to deport 11 million people yesterday. The Obama administration can't point out that, in fact, there's a huge gap between their stated policy goals and implementation, because it's really important for them to draw a contrast between them and the GOP in courting voters who care about immigration policy, even though they've been far more aggressive than even the Bush administration in removing undocumented immigrants. The only people who aren't playing  pretend are the immigration reform advocates dealing with families who are being broken up every day. 

Incidentally, the recent debates on the debt ceiling, and the Obama administration's belief that a big debt reduction deal would take spending off the table as an issue remind me a bit of their strategy on immigration reform. The theory was vigorous enforcement of immigration laws would make Republicans amenable to a deal on immigration reform. A few hundred thousand deportations later, and the administration couldn't even get 60 votes for the DREAM Act, which was once itself a Republican proposal, let alone a comprehensive immigration reform bill. A reminder I suppose, that any sort of political strategy that expects Republicans to be abandon their immediate partisan interests in order to be "reasonable" isn't going to work. 

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