A newly inaugurated President Barack Obama pledged to tackle immigration reform during his first year in office. But no legislation has been passed, major workplace raids that made headlines during the Bush Administration are a distant memory, and no new funding for manpower or critical programs is in the pipeline.
“The border security implications are frightening,” said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union for the front-line officers.
It’s no surprise, observers say, that as the federal government fails to address the issue, border states are taking matters into their own hands by cracking down on illegal immigration, including a new Arizona law that gives local police some of the same powers enjoyed by their federal partners to identify those in the country illegally.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Tex.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the administration’s spending priorities for next year which he says includes no funding for new detention beds, no increase to find and deport immigration fugitives or criminal aliens, no additional special agents to investigate workplace immigration violations, no funding to expand the visa security program, and no funding for new border-fence construction.
“The President ought to be using immigration enforcement to address key priorities such as jobs and national security,” Smith said. “But instead of doing so, the Obama Administration is maintaining the status quo.”
The administration is looking to eliminate 180 administrative border patrol jobs in the coming year even as violence along the Southwest border continues to escalate — an Arizona sheriff’s deputy was shot by drug suspects last week, following the murder weeks earlier of an American rancher by border crossers on his own property.
“The Border Patrol catches about one-third (of illegal aliens) that come across, that is not border security, that is a joke,” Bonner said. “But to say we are just going to maintain that level of control is unacceptable.”
The administration has also proposed cuts for border agents to work overtime, Bonner said.
“Weekends and holidays are peak smuggling periods. And if we’re in the middle of a pursuit at the end of a shift, are we just supposed to stop?” Bonner asked. “America deserves and needs far better.”
The numbers verify the decline in federal border involvement.
In fiscal 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration, total criminal arrests during worksite enforcement efforts totaled 1,103. That’s compared to 410 arrests in 2009 and 85 arrests in the current fiscal year as of February 10, according to statistics provided by Rep. Smith. Indictments numbered 900 in 2008, compared to 376 in 2009 and 52 in 2010. Convictions in all years were comparable.
“That’s precisely the reason Arizona had to do what it did,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “The Obama Administration has gutted worksite enforcement efforts.”
However, Homeland Security Department officials say significant progress has been made during the Obama Administration to improve border security and immigration enforcement, and that 20,000 agents are deployed nationwide, including 4,000 agents in Arizona.
“The Department of Homeland Security has dedicated unprecedented manpower, technology, and infrastructure resources to the Southwest border over the course of the past 14 months,” said Matt Chandler, department spokesman. “The administration continues to evaluate additional law enforcement options as needed, including the use of the National Guard, along the Southwest Border. We continue to work with Congress on comprehensive reform of our immigration system, which would provide lasting and dedicated resources at our borders.”
The number of I-9 inspections, which are audits to ensure businesses are hiring legal residents, has spiked significantly in the Obama administration.
In the last year of the Bush administration, there were 503 inspections, but the number nearly tripled in the first year of the Obama administration to 1,444. To date in fiscal year 2010, there have been 1,180 inspections with potential fines of nearly $3 million.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has signed several bilateral agreements with her Mexican counterparts to coordinate incident response and cooperation between law enforcement activities along the border. Napolitano has also refocused the administration’s priorities on identifying violent criminals who are already incarcerated and in the country illegally, then returning them to their country of origin after they have completed their jail sentence.
According to statistics provided to HUMAN EVENTS by the Homeland Security department, more than 127,000 criminal aliens have been identified in the last year. No numbers were provided on how many have been deported.
As political stands go, the priority to remove incarcerated aliens is “a no-brainer,” Mehlman said. “Obviously, no one objects to deporting violent criminals. They should not be here in the first place. That’s just common sense.”
Even with the border issue erupting with the enactment of the Arizona law, the White House is reluctant to take the matter on during an election year.
Obama made a rare appearance in the press cabin aboard Air Force One and “sounded skeptical that he would sign comprehensive immigration reform this year,” Politico reported Friday.
He wants Congress to press forward with immigration reform but said he’s unsure lawmakers have the “appetite” to get it done or that it would pass without Republican support.
“So it’s a matter of political will,” Obama said. “Now, look, we’ve gone through a very tough year, and I’ve been working Congress pretty hard. So I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue. There’s still work that has to be done on energy. Midterms are coming up.”
“I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem,” Obama said.
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