Why the President's Dual-Track Immigration Strategy Failed

By Stanley Renshon on October 7, 2013

On immigration, President Obama was running two races at the same time, a marathon and a sprint. He needed to convince the public that he was serious about immigration enforcement so that he would have the legitimacy to propose a large-scale amnesty.

As Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration, wrote in the Washington Post about President Obama's immigration legislation prospects, "The specter of ongoing cycles of amnesty and illegal migration fueled deep opposition to reform in 2007 and will do so again if not taken seriously."

Establishing the president's enforcement credentials, however, would take some time. And in one respect, the president had run out of it.

He had, after all, promised his supporters an immigration bill in his first term. However, that promise had been put aside in favor of passing a major and unprecedented expansion of the government's involvement in America's health care system. That was to be the crown jewel of Mr. Obama's transformational presidency.

Worse, the president needed to move quickly because the deportation rates of some criminal illegal aliens began to trend upward, and began to be noticed.

In 2007, the year preceding the first term of Mr. Obama's presidency, the number of removals was 102,204. In 2008, that number was 114,415. In 2009 it was 136, 483. In 2010, it was 195,772. In 2011, it was 216,698, and in 2012 it was 225, 390.

So when ICE reported that these numbers said that represented "the largest number of criminal aliens removed in agency history", they were right, but misleading.

In reality, after 9/11, the George W. Bush Administration began to pay much greater attention to America's porous borders. In 2001 and 2002, the Bush Administration deported about 71,000 each year. Then the numbers started to climb, as his post-9/11 National Security Doctrine began to take shape.

In 2003, the criminal deportation figure was 81,636. In 2004, it was 89,852 and three years later, it had jumped to 102, 024. By 2008, the year President Obama took office that number had reached 114, 415.

The Obama deportation figures, therefore, rested on that expanded base, reaching 225, 390 criminal removals, of various types in 2012.

Those robust numbers come with several caveats, among them the definition of "criminal" already noted. More troubling was that there were independent indications that some of the administration numbers are inaccurate. An analysis by the Christian Science Monitor found that, "The problem is that immigration court statistics obtained by TRAC show that actual criminal deportation proceedings have dropped below Bush administration levels. So how are deportations of criminal aliens up 89 percent over 2008? That's the unresolved question."

Moreover, the Washington Post reported that, "For much of this year, the Obama administration touted its tougher-than-ever approach to immigration enforcement, culminating in a record number of deportations. But in reaching 392,862 deportations U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement included more than 19,000 immigrants who had exited the previous fiscal year, according to agency statistics. ICE also ran a Mexican repatriation program five weeks longer than ever before, allowing the agency to count at least 6,500 exits that, without the program, would normally have been tallied by the U.S. Border Patrol."

More troubling, the Post reported that,
 

When ICE officials realized in the final weeks of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, that the agency still was in jeopardy of falling short of last year's mark, it scrambled to reach the goal. Officials quietly directed immigration officers to bypass backlogged immigration courts and time-consuming deportation hearings whenever possible, internal e-mails and interviews show. Instead, officials told immigration officers to encourage eligible foreign nationals to accept a quick pass to their countries without a negative mark on their immigration record, ICE employees said. The option, known as voluntary return, may have allowed hundreds of immigrants - who typically would have gone before an immigration judge to contest deportation for offenses such as drunken driving, domestic violence and misdemeanor assault - to leave the country. A voluntary return doesn't bar a foreigner from applying for legal residence or traveling to the United States in the future. Instead, officials told immigration officers to encourage eligible foreign nationals to accept a quick pass to their countries without a negative mark on their immigration record, ICE employees said.

 

In other words, to keep up figures that made the administration look tough on enforcement, it allowed criminal aliens to leave the country on a voluntary basis without a record of having been deported for criminal cause.

Jessica Vaughan, CIS's Director of Policy Studies, has also exposed the deceptive nature of the deportation statistics.

Leaving aside its questionable counting practices, and the fact that illegal criminal aliens would not be in the country in the first place if the administration had really been serious about workplace and border enforcement from its first years in office, it deserves credit for the number of real criminal aliens it did deport. But by making use of subterfuge, the administration undercut its own claim for legitimacy in press for the legalization it wanted.

But it worst immigration offenses lay elsewhere.

Next: Why the President's Dual Track Immigration Strategy Failed, Part 2.