NDN MEMO: W/ Pres Obama Our Border is Safer, Our Immigration System Better/Romney Offers "Thin Gruel"

With President Obama Our Immigration System Is Better, Our Border Safer/Romney Offers Thin Gruel, Embrace of SB1070/Brewer/Self Deportation/Attrition Approach

In his 2008 campaign President Obama promised to fix our broken immigration system through a strategy we’ve come to know as comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).  CIR’s approach was to improve the system in three ways: 1) deter undocumented immigrants through better enforcement in the workplace and on the border; 2) design a better system for the future flow of immigrants so fewer undocumenteds would enter the country; 3) create a path to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working among us. 

Despite significant efforts by the Administration to pass CIR in 2010, the Republicans refused to go along and using the Senate filibuster blocked passage, as their party didin previous attempts to pass CIR in 2006 and 2007. 

While CIR may not have passed, due to firm leadership from the Obama Administration over the past few years, more of the elements of CIR have been enacted then many realize, leaving our border safer and immigration system better than it was prior to 2009. 

Let’s review what has been done:

Border Safety, Stopping the Flow of Undocumented Immigrants – The Administration has adopted the most aggressive set of border safely initiatives in US history. More money has been allocated, and  personnel dispatched to the border and there has been much greater cooperation with Mexico in tackling these common challenges than any time in our nations history.  The result today is that despite violence on the Mexican side of the border the communities on the US side have some of the lowest crime rates in the US; there has been virtually no spillover violence; progress has been made in stopping the southbound flow of guns and bulk cash; the net flow of undocumented immigrants from Mexico to the US has dropped from 500,000 a year just a few years ago to zero today. 

While the border has become much safer, importantly these efforts have not stifled legal commerce with Mexico.  Trade with Mexico, despite our economic recent downturn, has grown significantly in recent years.  Mexico is now the US’s third largest trading partner, second largest export market and second largest source of foreign tourists of any country in the world.   New ports of entry have been opened for the first time in a decade, and other ports have been modernized. 

Better Workplace Enforcement – After extensive consultation with businesses the Obama Administration transitioned from large-scale workplace arrests of  undocumented workers to a far more effective electronic I-9 audit system. Under the Obama Administration, cases against employers are up sharply: Immigration and Customs Enforcement quadrupled the number of employer audits after Obama took office, increasing the number of inspections and arrests against those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Businesses were fined $6.9 million in fiscal 2010, up from $675,000 in 2008. Additionally, the administration has been an aggressive proponent of a national employer verification system, an idea not supported by the current Republican House majority. 

Making Deportation of Criminals A Priority – The Administration has made the deportation of criminal undocumented immigrants the primary deportation priority.  In retrospect, it is hard to believe that this wasn’t the priority of previous Administrations.  Due to the negotiation of unprecedented federal, state and local cooperation on immigration enforcement, this policy has worked.  Net number of deportations of undocumented immigrations are up in the Obama Administration, as are the removal of criminals as a percentage of deportations. 

Temporary Legal Status for DREAMers – The President’s decision to grant deportation relief to DREAM act eligible immigrants was a bold and dramatic act of Presidential leadership, one that should be welcomed by all those who want a better immigration system in America. The move was targeted, legal and the right thing to do.  It will affect about 800,000 of the best and brightest immigrants caught up in a broken system for decisions not of their making. 

Despite Republican opposition, the Obama Administration has made the border safer and the immigration better, while also ensuring a significant increase in trade with Mexico through our common border.  Those who argue that the President’s decision last week to grant two year visas to DREAM eligible youth was election year politics don’t understand that this was just the latest step in a long series of steps to fix our broken immigration – efforts which have seen real and tangible improvement in America’s immigration system.

Romney’s Approach – Thin Policy Gruel, Embrace of Arizona/SB1070 “Self-Deportation.” 

Seen through this light, the Romney immigration outline released yesterday looks like very thin policy gruel.  The enforcement section of his outline lists things already enacted by the Obama Administration.  The reforms in family re-unification, high-end visas and temporary workers are all initiatives already proposed by Democrats, and which do not represent a true redesign of the system necessary to meet the needs of our modern economy and deter future un-documented from entering the country. 

And finally, of course, the outline never addresses the most pressing problem facing our immigration system, the presence of 11 million undocumented immigrants.  From this omission one can only conclude that Governor Romney is sticking with the “self-deportation/attrition” strategy he embraced in the Republican Primaries, a strategy supported by national leaders like Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Kris Kobach and many other Republicans. 

One heard commentators on television this morning praising Governor Romney for softening his tone on immigration.  Perhaps that is the case.  But the only olive branch we saw is in areas of this debate frankly peripheral to fixing the system itself.  On the two big issues – what to do with the undocumenteds and the 800,000 DREAM eligible kids who will have legal visas if Romney were to become President - we are left to assume that they would be subject to the same SB1070/Arizona/Arpaio approach the Governor embraced in the primaries and which will return to the national stage when the Supreme Court rules next week.