On December 15, Boston University law professor Laila Hlass penned an opinion piece in the Boston Globe titled "Five GOP immigration myths", and unfortunately spread many myths of her own. The immigration issue is undoubtedly complex, but a more accurate picture of President Obama's immigration agenda is important if we are to move toward a better immigration policy.
Myth 1: Deferred Action is for "high-achieving young people brought to the United States".
The primary focus of the piece was the president's recent announcement to change immigration law without Congress and his decision to expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program described by Hlass as one for "high achieving young people brought to the United States as children". In reality, the program does not require any type of high achievement. According to the administration's guidelines, applicants simply have to be "enrolled" in some sort of education, literacy, or career training program; they can drop out a day after applying for DACA and still qualify and later renew their status without an education or job.
Additionally, the program is not for "young people" as the new memos clearly explain. In fact, there is no age cutoff and they can be of any age today, provided they claim they entered before age 16.
Furthermore, there is no requirement that applicants prove they were "brought here" through no fault of their own. Certainly people who were brought here are sympathetic since they are not morally culpable. But the administration's DACA guidelines state that a person simply must claim they "came" to the United States, which includes people who came on their own volition.
Myth 2: "All legal challenges to the president's 2010 deferred action program have failed."
First, it should be noted that DACA was announced in 2012, not 2010 as Hlass claims. She finds it persuasive that "100 immigration law scholars have declared the legality of the president's executive action". Plenty of other legal scholars feel differently, but ultimately the constitutionality of an act is for judges to decide.
The central legal challenge to the DACA program — Crane v. Napolitano — was filed by immigration agents who felt that the program created a conflict in federal law regarding their job responsibilities. The case has not been decided on the merits and "failed" simply because the judge decided that his court did not have jurisdiction to decide the case. But the judge did note that "the court finds that [the agents] are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim." Additionally, 25 states have filed a lawsuit against the administration's immigration policies. Litigation against DACA is only at its early stages.
Myth 3: "The Obama administration deported a record number of people."
Even President Obama has tried to explain that claims of high deportations under his watch are inaccurate. In speaking to a group of reporters, the president noted that "the statistics are actually a little deceptive" because of the way in which deportations are now counted. Previously, people stopped at the border and turned back quickly were not counted as "deportations", but today they are.
When you look at actual removals from the interior of the United States and compare them to previous years, it's clear that deportations — in the common understanding of the word — are going down. For example, in 2006 the combined efforts of the Investigations and the Detention and Removal divisions of ICE resulted in 117,000 alien arrests, which dropped to 68,000 in 2008 and down to 54,000 in 2010.
Myth 4: Other presidents have done the same thing.
The Washington Post recently published an editorial titled "President Obama's unilateral action on immigration has no precedent", explaining how Hlass's claim that 1.5 million illegal immigrants were given status by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush is false. The Post notes that the original source of that number "believes the number is false and was based on a misunderstanding from testimony he gave to Congress." In reality, the number of people who benefited was only around 40,000 (our estimate) to "perhaps a couple of hundred thousand people, at most" (the Post's estimate).
Obama's unilateral action will benefit millions of people, raising the legitimate concern that he has effectively nullified large swaths of immigration law. Past presidents were trying to carry out actual law passed by Congress whereas Obama openly explains his actions are in defiance of Congress.
Myth 5: There's no crisis at the border and people aren't coming here for DACA.
As anyone who lives along the U.S.-Mexico border can attest, large-scale illegal immigration has a significant impact on many communities. While Hlass is correct that illegal immigration has slowed while Obama has been in office, this is largely because of the downturn in our economy and has little to do with Obama's nominal immigration enforcement efforts.
Hlass cites a report from the United Nations about the cause of Central American illegal immigration, but the report focuses on interviews of migrants who entered in 2011, a year before DACA was announced. In contrast, the Obama administration itself believes that Central Americans are coming here in response to DACA and felt it necessary to conduct a campaign in Central America explaining that new arrivals would not be eligible for the program.
Finally, everyone knows that increased immigration is wildly unpopular with the American people and that Obama's lawless actions do not have the support of the public. If it were so popular, Obama would have done it before the election — but he waited until afterward precisely because he wanted to limit electoral damage to his party. Even polls that are written with a bias that favors his action find widespread opposition. The latest poll (from the Washington Post and ABC News) finds that 57 percent of registered voters believe Obama's lawless amnesty "should be blocked" by Congress.