Friday, February 22, 2013

US immigration reform and a "secure border"

Here are some recent comments by President Obama on immigration.

President Obama on Immigration Reform in a Google+ Hangout -- Part 1 02/21/2013:

President Obama on Immigration Reform in a Google+ Hangout -- Part 2 02/21/2013:

Aura Bogado provides some useful reality-based information on immigration in Five Things to Know About Immigration and Enforcement The Nation 02/20/2013. One issue on which she focuses is the dubious conduct of ICE:

The coming weeks promise more of the same between a White House that has already leaked its own plan, the Senate’s Gang of Eight that is apparently still crafting one, a reluctant House that may stall any efforts at comprehensive reform, a visible and vocal undocumented population that’s taking a seat at the table and advocates on all sides of the debate. Then, there’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, whose Border Patrol agents garnered nearly one million dollars in cash, vacation time and Home Depot gift card incentives to target people for deportation — including many US citizens. ICE officials and agents tend to make their own rules, and Obama hasn’t reined them in. ...

An information request revealed last week that ICE officials instructed agents to scour Department of Motor Vehicle databases for potential immigrants to detain. The request yielded several emails sent to and from David Venturella, who served as ICE’s assistant director between 2008 and 2012. During that time, the Center for Investigative Reporting explained that the private prison corporation, GEO Group, "pointed toward anticipated growth of federal detention, particularly immigrants." (You can read more about my visit to one such GEO Group facility last month here.) ICE’s Venturella appears in the same post, divulging that his agency would be requesting the construction of new detention centers. According to this LinkedIn profile, Venturella left his post at ICE to join the GEO Group in July.
This is a big reason why I have so little confidence in Obama's determination to get a decent immigration reform. But there is strong pressure for it now, so maybe he will be forced into supporting it. Because without serious pressure from the public and Democrats in Congress, he'll just make another lazy compromise and allow dubious conduct by ICE to continue unchallenged.

But I'm also concerned about the Administration's attempt to sell their success at supposedly securing the border as a good reason to have comprehensive immigration reform, a point that Bogado also emphasizes.

Elizabeth Dwoskin spells out an Administration-friendly case on this question in The U.S.-Mexico Border Got Secured. Problem Solved? Bloomberg Businessweek 02/21/2013:

The porous border has long been the Republicans’ main argument against reforming immigration laws. The last time Congress took up the issue, in 2007, it bogged down over the government’s inability to stop the flow of undocumented laborers. More than 850,000 people were caught trying to illegally cross the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border from Mexico that year, and the number of Mexican immigrants living in the country illegally was at a 40-year peak, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Even with the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President George W. Bush couldn’t persuade enough Republicans to support an immigration bill.

This time, those looking to revive concerns about a lawless border must contend with a far different set of facts: The line between Mexico and the U.S. is now more secure than it’s been in decades. Obama has poured money and resources into border security. In his first term, he spent $73 billion on immigration enforcement. That’s more than the budgets of all other federal law enforcement agencies—the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service—combined, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group. (Bush spent $37.4 billion on immigration enforcement in his first term and $60 billion in his second.)
The dramatic escalation in enforcement, including the excesses of ICE, have presumably been a significant factor in the reported net zero immigration from Mexico. Dwoskin does point out how the drug violence in Mexico has contributed to the immigration decline, and least covers the journalistic bases in saying "it’s difficult to measure how much of the drop in illegal immigration is owed to this massive law enforcement effort. Some of the decline is the result of a soft U.S. economy that has fewer jobs to offer immigrants." (my emphasis) But the headline and the first paragraphs of the article leave a strong impression that enforcement is the primary factor.

It's likely that immigration will rise again once there is substantial improvement in the economies of US states along the border, an improvement that is already underway in California. Austerity economics at the national level is like to slow or even reverse that approval.

But one of the potential concessions Obama could make to anti-immigration Republicans is to make implementation of immigration reform dependent on some mechanism by which border-state governors have to certify border security. One pitch for such a bad compromise - essentially a poison-pill provision the Republicans could use to sabotage reform altogether - is for the Administration to argue with such a wonderful record in border enforcement, such a certification wouldn't be a problem.

This claim that escalated enforcement has successfully created a "secure border" is a tricky one that immigration reform advocates should watch carefully.

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