Immigration Enforcement as Political Football

By Dan Cadman on December 28, 2015

The Washington Post reported last week on a plan being floated by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to institute "raids" against aliens who entered the U.S. illegally during the 2014 summer border surge, against whom there are now final orders of removal outstanding.

According to the story, the plan has been kicked around exhaustively in the upper echelons of the administration for some time, with no final decision being made. My own take is that the story was deliberately leaked by administration officials as a trial balloon to gauge public reaction to the proposal. And, although the media suggest that the idea emanated below, either at DHS or its subordinate agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which would undertake the raids, that idea is beyond laughable. The leaders at all levels of DHS and its subordinate agencies are minions selected by the White House for their pliability. If this plan emanated anywhere, it arose from politicos at the highest levels who have their eye on the upcoming presidential election.

We have seen numerous instances during this presidential campaign of candidates setting off a furor with their positions on immigration – most notably with Donald Trump, who has to date paid no price among potential voters for his pro-enforcement outspokenness. Quite the contrary, he has galvanized a significant portion of the electorate, which is fed up with the usual doubletalk from establishment politicians.

And other Republican candidates watching in consternation – those who remain viable anyway – have in turn become more adept in at least talking the talk (though when parsing their words carefully one sees plenty of room for post-election turnabouts). The very fact that candidates who advocate amnesty, like Jeb Bush and John Kasich, have gained no traction and continue to poll in single digits, has to have eyes fluttering and heads spinning among establishment GOP types.

The issue obviously has deep resonance with a large segment of the electorate: well beyond just Republican voters and into the arena of independents and centrists so hotly contested by both parties as a way to swing the election in their direction. This resonance must have Democrats worried and, even though the president has dodged a formal endorsement of any Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton is far and away the Democratic frontrunner. Some have gone so far as to accuse the Democratic National Committee (DNC) of rigging events to favor Clinton's eventual clinching of the nomination.

But there's this pesky perception that Democrats are weak on immigration enforcement, something that has become increasingly unpalatable to the public in light of the now undeniable connection between immigration and matters of terrorism and national security, so disastrously highlighted in France and the rest of Europe with its runaway migrant crisis and infiltration by jihadists.

So what to do to win back the independents and centrists? "Hey! I've got an idea! Let's get tough on a tiny segment of the illegal population, one that will look like we're really doing something! Let's have some raids on those scofflaws we let in a year ago last summer who didn't even bother to go to their court hearings. They're expendable. Besides, it will send a message back to Central America that they still haven't gotten: no more surges! At least, not until after the election, for God's sake."

If one were to accept the idea that the plan is fundamentally a political exercise, and that it was floated by way of a leak to prepare the public (and the small but outraged base of open borders advocates) for what will follow, then the reactions of the other two significant Democratic candidates was what Louisianans would call "lagniappe" – that little extra something, the gravy on the rice, the icing on the cake. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley, both of whom have irritated the DNC to no end with their accusations of favoritism, took the bait and immediately leapt into the rhetorical fray to denounce the proposed raids. By contrast, The Hill newspaper tells us, "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has been more cautious than Sanders or O'Malley with regard to immigration policy in general, has not commented on the reported deportation raids."

To call Clinton "more cautious" about immigration policy smacks of unreality. In October she was quoted as saying she would go even farther than the president has gone in his use of "executive action" to shield illegal aliens from the reach of the law. And yet she maintains a strategic silence in the face of this latest revelation. Anybody smell a set-up here?

Are such perceptions deeply cynical on my part? Yes indeed. Exceeded only by the kind of cynicism that the White House itself has shown where the subject of immigration enforcement is concerned.

But what else can one expect from politicians who cut their teeth in Chicago, where ward patronage, one-party rule, behind-the-scenes voting machinations, and demagoguery put yesteryear's Tammany Hall to shame?