The Politics Of Deportations:
Immigrants As Election Fodder
The immigration judge was not in a good mood.
Before my client’s removal hearing began, the judge scolded the detention officer.
As a deportation defense lawyer, it was clear the Immigration and Customs Enforcement war on immigrants was causing administrative problems for the immigration court.
“I am putting you on notice,” noted the judge, “that I am closing my courtroom down at 11:30 sharp.”
“Do not think you can continue to add 40 new cases to my calendar whenever you feel like it. I am not going to keep sacrificing my lunch to accommodate your agency. Tell your supervisors that if we cannot finish the calendar by noon, you will have to return at 1:00 p.m.”
Quota? What Quota?
It seems like light-years ago that a leaked memo surfaced revealing the Department of Homeland Security had set a quota for annual deportations at 400.000. Yet, it was merely 18 months ago.
As I discussed in Deportations Of Immigrants Are Growing, the news spread like wildfire, sparking criticism from pro-immigration advocates. Quickly, the Obama administration sought to offset the memo’s validity.
Just a few months later, amidst growing dissent, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledged the 400,000 quota. Caught with its hands in the cookie jar, the government admitted the obvious, hoping to mute criticism.
Two weeks ago, when the administration announced record deportation numbers for the third consecutive year, public opposition was much quieter than in the previous two years.
In part, the outcry against the level of deportations may have been short-lived due to other issues facing the public.
Yet, in my view as a Riverside immigration lawyer, factors like burnout, apathy, and politics also played a role. I sense the public has grown tired of immigration news, especially when little, if anything, is being done to fix the immigration system.
Since immigration is a peripheral issue for many citizens, they have started to turn off to the subject.
The upcoming election has accelerated this process. Conservatives and liberals are settling into their respective camps and the party platforms are starting to emerge. For true believers, immigration reform is not on the party agenda.
For example, Obama supporters continuously minimize the social impact of his record-breaking deportations by suggesting the situation will be worse if a GOP candidate wins the next election.
No surprise, then, most of the public has become immune to a 400,000 deportation quota.
Deportation Numbers For 2011
According to ICE Director John Morton, the government deported 396,906 immigrants from October 2010 to September 2011.
This marks the third year in a row where the Obama administration has set new deportation standards.
There were 392,862 deportations made from October 2009 through September 2010.
In the first year under President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security reported 298,401 immigrants were removed from the United States. An additional 89,389 immigrants left under voluntary departure orders. Combined, the 2009 total was 387,790 deportations.
In fiscal year 2008, during George Bush’s final year as President, the government removed 264,541 immigrants and 104,680 left the country.
Behind The ICE Deportation Numbers
At the press conference, Morton noted the deportation news was the outcome of a “focus on sensible immigration.”
He added, “In the face of limited resources, we have to prioritize, and that starts with criminal offenders.”
Morton’s statement is a watered-down version of Obama’s claims over the past few years. The shift went largely unmentioned, if not undetected.
According to the president, federal law enforcement efforts would target immigrants with serious criminal convictions. In fact, administration officials have often noted their focus is on removing criminal illegal immigrants “who pose a national security or public safety threat.”
There’s a reason for the unnoticed shift in the administration’s rhetoric.
Statistics reveal the answer.
DHS claims 55% of the nearly 397,000 deportees were “criminal aliens.” The question remains, however, how many of them committed serious criminal offenses.
DHS Deportation figures for the major categories of serious crimes shows:
That’s a total of 100,575.
55% of 397,000 equals 218,350. So what are the crimes committed by the other 118,350 serious criminal offenders?
Moreover, as some commentators have already noted, many of the drug-related, DUI, and traffic convictions are not serious crimes. Many warranted only a minimum punishment at state court, but are classified as a serious offense under arcane immigration rules.
If merely 1/3 of the drug, DUI, and traffic convictions fall into this category, that’s another 31,000 excluded from the “national security or public safety threat” classification.
Then there’s the issue of the unaccounted 45%, or 179,000 deportees.
Added together, a modest estimate would suggest approximately 328,000 of the 397,000 deportees, nearly 83%, fail to meet the serious criminal offender criteria touted by the president just one year earlier.
The Reality Of Immigration Politics
As explained in Deportation Legacy: Obama Sets All Time Record For Second Straight Year, the Obama election game plan is based on a two-part blueprint.
- One, pin the lack of progress on immigration reform issues on the Republicans. This allows the president to campaign as the better choice, if no longer the champion, for immigrant communities.
- Two, placate middle-of-the-road voters by not actively supporting immigration reform issues and supporting stronger anti-immigrant deportation measures.
Obama supporters assert my analysis of the president’s game plan is unduly harsh. They claim that I fail to understand political reality.
When I go to immigration court and fight for the release of an immigrant who has no criminal convictions, two U.S. children, a U.S. citizen wife, and lived here since the age of seven, that’s not just a legal reality.
It’s also a political reality.
It’s politics that make this individual subject to detention, except on payment of an excessive bond, while at the same time stripping him of most avenues to legalize his status.
It’s politics that led ICE to pick him up at work while he was peacefully try to earn a living to feed his wife and children.
It’s politics that causes an immigration judge to rip into ICE for excessively loading up his calendar with immigrants as if they’re merely herds of human cattle.
And it’s politics when the president enters the White House on a promise to push true immigration reform and yet allows immigrants to be deported in record numbers on a false pretense they are serious criminal offenders.
In other words, the deportation of immigrants has been reduced to reelection fodder for both political parties.
That’s political reality.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics