It’s an old device in politics: Set up a straw man to criticize when you can’t win an argument on your own. Such tactics, unfortunately, are standard fare when it comes to efforts by a handful of special interest groups to bring about amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Organizations such as the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Migration Policy Institute know that most Americans disagree with their desire for amnesty. Most Americans want to see immigration laws enforced. So these groups create straw men. They use them as diversionary tactics to criticize the way in which immigration laws are enforced without ever admitting to their true amnesty goals.
Who are these Straw Men? Let’s take a look:
1. The Civil Rights Abuses Straw Man
One of the most popular with the amnesty movement is the Civil Rights Abuses Straw Man. He is the one on whom the open-borders crowd call when they want to undercut successful efforts of state and local police and sheriffs to enforce immigration laws through a federal program known as 287(g).
The 287(g) program was created in the “Illegal Immigration Control and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.” It allows states or localities to enter into an agreement with the federal government to assist in the investigation, apprehension and detention of illegal aliens. It is purely voluntary on behalf of local law enforcement officials.
But the Civil Rights Abuses Straw Man suggests that allowing state and local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws increases the risk of racial profiling and leads to civil rights violations.
This claim, however, fails on several fronts:
First, 287(g) is authority given to police and sheriffs, sworn to uphold our laws. Those officers regularly interact with the public to enforce a huge range of criminal statutes — day in and day out. It is absurd to suggest that granting additional authorities to police officers and sheriffs’ deputies will somehow cause them to take leave of their senses and start violating people’s civil rights.
Moreover, as the Supreme Court made clear in the 1996 case of Bush v. Vera, mere “racial disproportions in the level of [law enforcement activity] for a particular crime may be unobjectionable if they merely reflect racial disproportions in the commission of that crime.” In other words, the fact that many illegal immigrants fall into specific racial categories, and arrests of illegal immigrants reflect those categories, does not mean that civil rights violations have occurred.
2. The Strained Resources Straw Man
A close friend of the Civil Rights Abuses Straw Man, the Strained Resources Straw Man is also often called upon to undercut 287(g). This one suggests that police and sheriffs shouldn’t be given 287(g) authority because enforcing immigration laws will strain their ability to carry out other law enforcement functions.
But 287(g) is entirely voluntary.
The reality is that the annual number of jurisdictions that choose to voluntarily participate in 287(g) has risen dramatically — from one in 2002 to 67 currently — and DHS cannot keep up with the increased demand. In fiscal 2007, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which administers the program, received 69 new applications, the vast majority of which had to be rejected because of limited funding.
Does the Strained Resources Straw Man really believe that if police chiefs and sheriffs thought that 287(g) authority would detract from their other public safety responsibilities, they would ask for it anyway?
3. The Serious Criminals Straw Man
Another of the men of the amnesty movement is the Serious Criminals Straw Man. He rightly recognizes that some illegal immigrants commit heinous crimes, and that they pose serious threats to public safety in American communities.
But the suggested response is flawed.
The Serious Criminals Straw Man wants ICE to focus on finding and deporting serious criminal aliens only after they have committed their crimes and to the exclusion of other immigration enforcement. He suggests that federal agents should not arrest illegal immigrants for a whole array of crimes like identity theft, Social Security fraud, vandalism, public intoxication and even driving under the influence. His argument is that these “minor” offenses should be ignored.
A better approach is to comprehensively identify and work to deport illegal immigrants for their violations of immigration law, rather than waiting to identify them until after they have committed a more “serious” crime.
4. The Family Separation Straw Man
One of the newest men in the amnesty movement is the Family Separation Straw Man. He’s traveling around the country with amnesty advocates on a so-called “Family Unity Tour.” His goal is to focus on what happens to families when immigration laws are enforced.
This man acts as if the only option for illegal immigrant parents who are caught breaking the law is separation from their children. But he forgets that children can travel to their parents’ home countries with them. And the federal government may even cover the cost if the family cannot afford it.
In most cases, the children will be welcomed abroad as citizens of their parents’ home countries — so they won’t be “stateless” as Family Separation Straw Man suggests. In fact, the 10 countries that are estimated to have sent the most illegal immigrants to the U.S. are Brazil, China, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea. In all of these countries except China, the country’s law is clear that children born in the U.S. who have at least one parent who was a citizen of their country (and born in the country) are either automatically citizens of the country or can easily seek citizenship. In China, the law is unclear, but the practice of the Chinese embassy is to allow children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant Chinese parents to return to China as Chinese nationals.
The Family Separation Straw Man also fails to account for the number of illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. alone, leaving family behind in their native countries. These individuals knowingly broke our laws and entered our country illegally. They need to take responsibility for their actions.
5. The Detention Straw Man
As the American public and Congress increasingly pushed the Bush Administration to enforce the immigration laws on the books, the need to increase the capacity of immigration detention facilities became clear.
At the time, there were an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, including more than 600,000 who had already been ordered deported but stayed in the U.S. instead of going home. There were many thousands more who were arrested by the Border Patrol or ICE, but never even showed up for their day in court.
Catching and releasing these individuals clearly wasn’t working. In the old days, the Justice Department’s inspector general found that only 13% of non-detained aliens with final removal orders were returned home. What’s worse, only 6% of non-detained aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism who had final removal orders were deported.
But ICE had the capacity to hold only about 17,000 detained aliens. The bipartisan Congress worked with President Bush to roughly double that number.
The Detention Straw Man, however, doesn’t like detention because it is effective: It ensures that those ordered deported actually leave.
His solution is to use so-called “alternatives to detention” such as electronic monitoring or telephone reporting. He forgets, however, that these programs do not work in most cases. Even under ICE’s intensive monitoring program, one third of the “supervised” aliens who are ordered deported ignore their deportation orders.
The Detention Straw Man also suggests that detained illegal immigrants should have more rights, including the right to comprehensive medical and dental care and an array of comforts. While he is correct that basic medical screening should be provided to individuals, he overlooks the fact that most illegal immigrants are in ICE custody for just 31 days and therefore do not require that level of care. More important, in many cases, illegal immigrants remain in custody only while they continue to fight their deportation cases in U.S. courts. They could in fact go home at any time if they chose to.
At the core of the Detention Straw Man’s philosophy is the erroneous proposition that individuals who broke our laws to come here illegally in the first place will automatically comply with our laws after they are caught and ordered to leave.
6. The Flawed Verification System Straw Man
The final straw man is the Flawed Verification System Straw Man. Although he doesn’t insert himself into many of the day-to-day debates about immigration enforcement, he works quietly to be sure that individuals who illegally enter the U.S. can continue to find jobs when they arrive.
His presence among the Straw Men of the Amnesty Movement is particularly troublesome now: Currently, nearly 13 million citizens and legal immigrants are looking for jobs. Almost eight million illegal immigrants hold them.
The Flawed Verification System Straw Man consistently claims that he understands the link between illegal immigration and the ability of illegal immigrants to gain employment, yet he opposes efforts to help employers comply with the law.
Notably, he claims that E-Verify, the federal government’s system that enables companies to hire legal workers, is fatally flawed. He forgets that there are currently more than 115,000 companies that voluntarily use the E-Verify system. And he fails to recognize that it immediately confirms 99.6% of work-eligible employees, the kind of success rate that any company would be happy to have.
Those who use the straw men politically never admit knowing them. If they did, the truth might come out: These straw men exist to divert attention from their true goal: amnesty for all illegal aliens.