Making illegal immigration a non-deportable offense has long been a goal of many anti-enforcement activists but their radical proposal is only now becoming apparent to much of the public. For most of President Obama's term, the claim of record deportations had the public and the media focused on what was happening in the interior of the country. But as Julia Preston of the New York Times reports, "if [DHS Secretary] Johnson looks primarily at deportations from the interior of the country he may have limited room to maneuver, as those deportations have already been significantly reduced."
In response to demands from anti-deportation activists, Obama has asked Secretary Johnson to review immigration enforcement to make it "more humane." As little as a year ago, the media and public would have understood this to be a review of how the Administration goes about removing people with immigration violations from the interior of the country. Today, we understand that deportations from the interior are mostly limited to repeat immigration violators and those with criminal records.
The Daily Beast's Caitlin Dickson nicely summarizes the state of immigration enforcement today:
As far as enforcement is concerned, the Southwest border and the rest of the country might as well have different immigration laws. At the same time that Border Patrol has been ramping up the consequences of unauthorized crossings, ICE agents have been ordered to use so-called prosecutorial discretion in deporting non-citizens caught away from the border. (Emphasis mine)
In light of this revelation, the anti-deportation movement has been forced to clarify their demands. Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal reports: "Some advocates argue that the administration should offer leniency and even allow some illegal crossers to come into the country if they have lived here before and have strong family ties." (Emphasis mine)
Preston highlights a new anti-deportation talking point: "a fast-increasing share of the crimes that led to deportation, [a Migration Policy Institute] report found, were victimless offenses related to immigration -- mainly illegal crossing or evading a prior deportation order -- and not directly to the public safety of American communities." (Emphasis mine).
The debate has fundamentally changed. The deportation protests aren't calling for a scale back of a booming deportation machine (that's already happened in the interior) but for a complete halt for all deportations, including for those caught illegally entering or re-entering the country and for those who have committed additional, non-violent crimes.
Is illegal immigration a victimless offense? Should illegal immigration continue to be a deportable offense? These questions provide fertile ground for future stories. Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute offered a glimpse into her crystal ball for the Daily Beast:
'I'd be very surprised if one sees immigration offenses dropped from the definition of serious crimes, because you'd be setting up a system that says, "We are going to make the border tougher and tougher, but if you can get across the border and you're in the interior then you are in a safe place,"' she said. "That is not a system that we - the public, Congress - want to have anymore.'
Yet that is the system we have under President Obama. If Jeb Bush were president, he would turn the current system on its head by cracking down on visa overstays in the interior but allowing non-violent illegal immigration to flow freely at the border. These alternatives satisfy no one. Activists on all sides desire a uniform deportation policy but we are fundamentally divided on the question of whether immigration violations should be deportable offenses at all. Now that the media has pulled the curtain back on the "record deportation" claim, we may finally get to have that debate.
Clarification for Readers: "record deportations" does not mean a record number of people required to leave
The stories linked above all make a record deportation claim (with clarifications) of one kind or another, none of which I found satisfying. Since Obama's true record has been revealed there has been an attempt to justify the claim by counting only one classification of people who are required to leave as technical deportations. If that sounds confusing, I hope this will help:
The Obama Administration has processed more "removals" than any other president in history. Removals are one common category of expulsions. The other common category is "returns", which DHS describes as "the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal." If you compare Obama's removals plus returns (i.e. the total number of people required to leave) to his predecessors, he doesn't come close to any kind of record.
Some people claim that removals = deportations and every other form of expulsions do not (click here for a rebuttal to that argument). Whether they have a case or not, counting only removals as deportations is misleading since the average person assumes "deportations" encompass every person the United States has required to leave. Well-informed readers should help others understand that "deportations" has a different definition to different people these days, including reporters.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA