Last Friday the Obama administration announced that, by executive order, it would direct Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies to halt the deportation, for at least two years, of a group of young illegal aliens meeting certain criteria, and in addition grant these youths employment authorization. According to media reports, those affected by the new no-removal rules must:
- Have been brought to the United States before the age of 16;
- Have been in the country at least five years;
- Be under the age of 30;
- Have a high school diploma or GED or, alternatively, have served in the military; and,
- Lack a criminal history.
As with most things, though, the devil is in the details. For instance, how long must an alien have served in the military? How about the nature of the discharge: honorable only? Or is discharge "under other than honorable conditions" also acceptable? And exactly what does it mean to lack a criminal history? Is a misdemeanor conviction okay? Are certain third-degree felonies acceptable? Which ones? How about DUI/DWI convictions?
At other times and places, the answer might be obvious, but the way that DHS officials have dealt with these exact same questions in other, ongoing immigration programs, such as Secure Communities, gives us great pause to wonder whether it is really as straightforward as they would have us believe. I suspect not. Expansive public statements are rarely followed by a close scrutiny, by the media or anyone else, of the precise rules by which the bureaucracy will carry out the executive order.
Then there is the question of the limited duration of this effort. Administration officials say that the two-year halt is subject to renewal — but that, of course, would depend entirely on whether or not Mr. Obama is elected to the White House for a second term. Even the most seasoned observers and pundits have remarked on the overt politics being played with people's lives in an attempt to ensure reelection of the incumbent by securing the Hispanic vote.
But on a practical level, one of the things that most concerns me is how the program will be administered. How can illegal aliens substantively prove they came before they were 16, or that they have lived in the country five years, or even in some extreme cases that they are under 30, if they have no birth certificates, cedulas or other evidence of their age? The answer must necessarily be that the government will be liberal in accepting, at face value, secondary evidence — affidavits, rent receipts, and the like — all of which are an invitation to the unscrupulous, who will undoubtedly establish a thriving (and lucrative) market in fraudulent documents. This is not speculation. It has happened before and happens now: Fraud is routinely encountered by federal immigration authorities, especially those who grant benefits. Fraud was rampant during the legalization program mandated by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, in which millions of aliens were amnestied.
It is important to note that even those illegal aliens who would, in fact, meet the requirements of the executive order may feel the need to resort to fraud and counterfeit documents if they have no other way to prove their case.
And that leads me to my second major concern: the rule of unintended consequences. It is entirely possible that the administration, through its announcement, may also have unwittingly opened up the door for a thriving business in the smuggling of minors across our borders, many of them unaccompanied by relatives and thus subject to the worst sorts of abuse from unscrupulous coyotes.
Why would this happen? Because hope and hard lives in third-world countries engender risk-taking of a kind unknown to most Americans. Parents already here will send for their children, hoping to get them here safely and in time to queue up, with their phony documents in hand. Likewise, desperate parents in rural Mexico, the backwaters of El Salvador, or elsewhere, may send their children forward to join distant relatives or acquaintances, hoping for an eventual foothold themselves, or if not, at least for their children. And such parents may not themselves fully understand how subject to exploitation these youth will be in the hands of border smugglers: everything from sex abuse, to hostage-taking and extortion for additional fees, to forced transportation of drugs when they cross the border.
And, should such a scenario play out, how can DHS officials protect these minors and young adults against such risk and abuse? The sad fact is that they can't. One doubts they will even be inspired to undertake the steps needed to determine whether the executive order leads to these unintended consequences — steps like monitoring any upticks in apprehensions among teens or unaccompanied minors; or like examining smuggling loads and cases, to determine their composition; or carefully debriefing smuggled youth who are apprehended to determine the circumstances surrounding the reason they embarked on their journey, etc. — because to do so would be to acknowledge the rule of unintended consequences arising from a short-sighted decision made for political reasons. And that, of course, is not in the administration's reelection interests.