Immigration Reform: Obama Talks Change, But Deported Half a Million People Last Year

Consensus is brewing that serious immigration reform has a real shot for the first time since President George W. Bush’s failed attempt in 2007 to expand the guest worker program in the United States. After riding the huge wave of Latino voters to victory, President Obama and his administration have an opportunity to begin broad negotiations to radically change the way the American government deals with illegal immigrants in America. Many argue, after long-campaigning on the platform of these reforms, Democrats must produce something soon to fulfill the promises they’ve made for years.

In fact, in a recent interview with Meet the Press, President Obama said, “fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done. I think we have talked about it long enough.”

Legislation within the first year? That sounds promising! However, if we look at the actions of this administration rather than the rhetoric, it seems to nothing more than a fleeting hope. 

Despite campaigning as a leader for a pathway to citizenship and broad immigration reform, President Obama set a record for the highest number of deportations for a single presidential term. During his first term, the Obama administration’s Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency (ICE) cranked up its efforts to find and punish employers who hired illegal immigrants. ICE’s audits of employer forms increased from 250 in fiscal year 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2012. From fiscal years 2009 to 2012, the total amount of fines they levied grew from $1 million to nearly $13 million. The number of arrests for company managers that were suspected of hiring illegal immigrants also increased to 238.

If Obama is such the pro-immigrant champion, why is the federal government now spending so much to keep immigrants out? According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. Just in fiscal year 2012, spending reached $18 billion — which is approximately 24% higher than collective spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

It seems like the administration is just paying lip service to the individuals it promised to protect. Hopefully, this year, citizens won’t be fooled any longer and demand action from our decision makers.

Thankfully, conservative politicians are still reeling from the kick in the pants immigrant voters gave them in the recent election. The GOP needs to realize if they plan being “grand” for much longer, they must stop alienating the Asian and Latino voters who will increasingly decide future elections. Perhaps, we will see a call for a change in the Republican platform?

With the political incentives, it seem like there is a recipe for change. But, as we’ve seen, we have the White House’s hypocrisy to contend with. Additionally, pro-immigration politicians will probably lose much of their political capital over broader gun control debates coming to a head and the issue of the debt ceiling looming over the economy.

So, despite initial optimism for broad free-market, pro-immigration policy reform, I would be skeptical of anything other than marginal changes to the existing structure taking place in 2013.

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Roger Pattison

Roger Pattison is currently pursuing a Master's degree in economics from George Mason University and working in non-profit fundraising for a liberty-advancing organization. I write on topics related to science, trade, immigration, emergent order, and informal institutions. All opinions written are my own and do not represent the views of my employer or George Mason University.

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