The immigration debate, to put it mildly, is heating up. As thousands of illegal aliens pour in across the border, the United States is facing a do-or-die situation.
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), spoke to Human Events about the threat facing our country by the Obama administration’s immigration policy, what must be done, and how such failings could rekindle the Republican Party and spell doom for the Democrats in 2016.
What???s going on at our border? Is this just the news media???s flash-in-the-pan story of the week, or is this a new and real concern?
There???s clearly a crisis on the border. It???s been building for a couple of years, but it???s gotten large enough now that the media and politicians are taking notice, and it???s almost entirely a result of the Obama administration???s own policies.
What we???re seeing is a significant increase in families with children, teenagers traveling on their own, and in younger children being brought in by paid smugglers. They???re coming mostly from Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador especially, and the reason is not so much that things have gotten worse in Central America, they???re not very good, that???s for sure, but there hasn???t been any disaster that has pushed a flood of people out.
Rather, what???s happened is the Obama Administration has sent pretty clear signals that it???s not serious about enforcing immigration laws, and the result is, word got back to Central America, and people said, ???Things are lousy here, let???s go to America because what we hear from our relatives and from the Spanish language media is that as long as we have kids with us, if we get caught, they???ll let us go.???
What happens when these people get to the border? Reports say that immigration services are being overwhelmed and they don???t have anywhere to put these people. Why can???t they just send them back? Is it because the administration told them not to?
Several reasons. If they???re Mexican, they can just send them back. But if they???re Central Americans who passed through Mexico, Mexico won???t take them back. And so they have to be prosecuted for removal, usually by air, to Central America, and that takes time. And with the children who were smuggled, [uaually] the smuggler ran off, then we???ve got to find out who they are.
What they???re doing is holding on to a lot of [the illegals], but they???re being overwhelmed. Even before they were overwhelmed, they were very often letting these people go with a summons saying, ???please come back in 30 days for your hearing.???
This isn???t new. Something like this happened in the same place in South Texas eight or nine years ago with Brazilian illegal aliens, because Mexico changed its visa rules so the Brazilians could go to Mexico without a visa. What happened is, they were given these letters when they were caught by the border patrol saying, ???please come back at this date for your hearing,??? and in the meantime, they basically have the right to be here. They???re not going to be deported before their hearing because the hearing is about being deported, so they just hop on a bus and leave. It got so bad that Brazilians were swarming over the border and hunting down the border patrol, and chasing after the border patrol to surrender themselves. They called these letters colloquially the ???diploma,??? [because] they graduated into the United States.
That eventually was shut down because we pressured Mexico into requiring visas again for people from Brazil. This is going to be harder to turn off. Mexico has no incentive to prevent the Central Americans from getting into the United States, and Central American countries don???t really have any capacity to control their own borders anyway.
There are two things required here: The first thing is, whatever the cost, each one of these people needs to be detained, and returned to make clear that this doesn???t work, don???t even try to do this.
The other thing, though, is this administration needs to change its approach to immigration enforcement. The administration has made it very clear from the very beginning that it does not consider being an illegal alien a good enough reason to be deported, that their goal has been to deport ONLY those people from the interior of the country who are not just illegal aliens, but are criminals, violent criminals, drug dealers, that kind of thing. The former acting director of ICE, (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) just a few weeks ago, wrote in the LA Times that a run-of the-mill illegal alien living in the interior of the United States basically a zero chance of being deported.
Until they change that approach to immigration, they???re not really going to be able to put a lid on this, and I???m not really sure they???re psychologically capable of doing that. They???re already spinning what???s happening in South Texas as a refugee crisis, saying it???s gang violence in Central America or whatever that???s causing it. There???s plenty of that, no question about it. Univision has a Sunday public affairs show, and they had the ambassador from Guatemala on the show and he said, ???no it has nothing to do with violence or anything in Guatemala, these are people coming to join their families in the United States.???
In fact, the New York Times and other papers have asked illegal aliens or people down in Honduras who aren???t illegal aliens yet, why is this happening, and they say, ???we heard the Americans will let you go if you have a child with you. And we want to take advantage of that before they change their minds.???
What are Obama???s incentives for this? He???s not risking re-election. Since the majority of immigrants want handouts from the government and vote Democrat more often than not, is he just building up his own party?
In this particular thing, this surge is South Texas, I???m not sure that intent is involved. I think this is something they just didn???t expect was going to happen, although anyone with any sense should have been able to expect it. And now they don???t know what to do about it. Their response is to approach it as a humanitarian crisis, rather than a law enforcement crisis, and as long as they do that, they???re not going to be able to fix it, and I???m not sure they are psychologically capable of seeing this as a law enforcement crisis. In other words, I don???t think they can bring themselves to do what???s necessary to shut this down.
And if they did, if they really did crack down seriously, I think their own left flank would go bananas. As it is, [Obama???s] gotten real pushback from the outside-the-beltway left about deportations: demands to halt to all deportations, sit-ins and so forth, and so far it???s all been respectful, ???we love Obama, but he needs to do this,??? kind of thing. If they do what???s necessary to cut this down, you???re going to see much more strident attacks on Obama by the left. I can see Cecilia Munoz, the domestic policy advisor who???s in charge, basically, of immigration policy, potentially resigning if they overrule her and really do what???s necessary to shut this off.
If they don???t, then this problem just gets bigger and bigger. It takes a while for the doubling to be big enough so that people pay attention. This is really similar to what Jimmy Carter dealt with with the Mariel Boatlift.
But the advantage to Carter, if you can call it that, at least Castro had to shut it off. He wasn???t going to let everybody leave. So there were more than 100,000 immigrants [who] almost overnight showed up in Florida, and they distributed them to various military bases, and it was one of the many things toward the end of Carter???s administration that was a total disaster for him.
The problem is, there???s no end to this, to what we???re seeing now. There???s no natural shut off. There are several million young people in Central America who would come if they figured they could do it. And then, what about the rest of the world?
What???s the solution? You said these people need to be detained, and not just released or given a letter that says ???come back in 30 days!??? because obviously this isn???t working for us. So, do we need to reinforce our borders with thousands more BP agents, do we need to recruit more people, are we just outnumbered, basically?
There are several things. First, every, single one of these people needs to be detained. And any adults have to be prosecuted for, in the very least, border jumping. They call it, ???entry without inspection;??? it???s actually a crime. And in some parts of the border they prosecute for it, and in other parts they don???t. And they don???t prosecute kids because they???re minors, but any adult has to be prosecuted, in addition to being held, and not released to relatives.
Also, the border patrol does have to boost its numbers down there; they need greater flexibility than they have, in addition to greater numbers. The border patrol is much bigger than it used to be. It???s about double the size it was ten years ago, so it???s not like we haven???t been doing anything on the border. The problem is, even now, the entire border patrol, that includes Canada and everywhere the border patrol is, all put together, is smaller than the New York Police Department.
That???s not a solution to anything going on now, because it takes time to recruit people. You???ve got to check their backgrounds, there???s extensive training, you???ve got to have Spanish language and all the law enforcement and immigration law, which is almost as complicated at the tax law, so that???s not an immediate solution.
Holding on to these people, prosecuting the adults, making sure everybody without exception is returned: Reasserting the idea that any illegal alien at any time can be deported for any reason, and we???re not apologizing for it.
The problem is, the administration is not just not doing that, if anything, it???s making the problem worse. Eric Holder said he???s putting together a core of a hundred lawyers to go defend and represent these illegal alien kids, which is unbelievable.
How do these people have rights for a lawyer and such privileges if they???re not even American citizens?
Don???t ask me! As far as asylum claims go, we have the right in the law to claim asylum even if you???re an illegal alien, although you have to make it stick, and we have all kinds of layers, too many layers of appeals, etc.
But when you get right down to it, and the Supreme Court has actually put it this way repeatedly in decisions, if you???re an illegal alien and you???re being tried for a criminal offense, you have the same due process rights as anyone else, but in immigration matters, due process is whatever Congress says it is.
The Supreme Court has said this repeatedly, because it???s not a criminal punishment, it???s just a decision about whether you???re supposed to be here or there. And so, again, this is not an immediate thing, but Congress needs to streamline and limit the implementation of immigration claims.
We need to have quicker deportation, and there???s actually even tools this Congress had given the administration they don???t use, called ???expedited removal,??? where you don???t even go to a judge; an immigration agent and then his supervisor makes a determination as to whether you have any plausible claims to asylum, and if you don???t, you???re out, right away. There???s no court, there???s no nothing. That kind of procedure is essential if we???re going to assert control, and the Obama administration has these tools, like I said before, I don???t think the administration is capable of bringing themselves to use those tools.
Ultimately, the folks in this administration who run immigration, I don???t mean the career people, I mean the political appointees, they don???t really believe the United States has the right to [deport].
What happens when we have a group who comes from South/Central America, and Mexico won???t take them back? Do we put them on a plane and fly them back to their mother country? How much does that cost us, and also what happens when they get back there? I doubt their government is grateful to have their people back???
Sometimes [the governments] drag their feet because they have to have their travel papers arranged beforehand. We don???t just fly without telling them and just show up and push them out of the airplane and take off. Some places, like Somalia, has no government. There we could do it. But even there we don???t. There we could just find a flat patch of land, land the plane, get everybody out, give everybody a canteen of water, ???have a nice day,??? and leave. We don???t do that.
We have to get their travel documents; usually they meet with somebody from their consulate to make sure they know who they are, they issue papers for them, etc. Some of these countries, El Salvador has done this in the past, slow walk this paper work, because they don???t want them back.
And we actually have, again, tools at our disposal to deal with this. Federal law says that any country that won???t accept its deportees back, or puts up unreasonable barriers and obstructions, that the State Department is required to cut off new visas to that country. We???ve only done it once in the entire twenty or so years that requirement has been the law. This administration would never do that because that would be an evil use of American power.
I think the administration probably already has tried to pressure behind the scenes, pressure Mexico and the Central American countries to prevent these people from getting to our border in the first place. And the reason is that it would let Obama off the hook about changing his own open borders policies, if somehow we could get the Central Americans and the Mexicans to stop this flow.
The problem is, Mexico has no incentive to stop this and neither does Central America, and I???m not even sure Mexico has the ability to, because the federal government, the president of Mexico, could say, ???I decree that this should all be stopped,??? but, it???s the local cops on the ground who are the ones who encounter these people. Smugglers bribe them and they look the other way. That???s what they???re doing already.
And in Central America, the governments have no capacity to do anything to stop this, even if they wanted to.
My point is, that is the administration???s first inclination: to deal with this as a humanitarian, refugee crisis at our end, and not change any policies, and in order to try to tamp this down, the other thing would be to try to pressure other governments.
What???s going to be the breaking point? Too many government hand-outs, crime????
Good question: What???s going to tip this? What specifically is going to be the straw that breaks the camel???s back and forces the administration to act I don???t know.
The numbers are going to keep getting bigger. At some point, these numbers become a problem. Where do you put these people?
It could be an outbreak of disease. It could be, [since] a lot of these people are teenagers, some kind of riot or other kind of violence in a teenage detention center. There was a riot with the Mariel detainees held in Arkansas. That was the reason Bill Clinton loss re-election in Arkansas. So something like that could be it, or it might not be ???til September, when all of these kids show up in school because public schools have to take all illegal alien students. Will the Phoenix or El Paso or even San Antonio or some other school district, end up with a 30 percent increase in the student body over night that they didn???t expect? That becomes news. I have no idea what???s going to push this over the edge.
This couldn???t come at a worse political time for this administration during the Bergdahl fiasco, the VA fiasco, and now it???s the South Texas border fiasco, all of which follows the Obamacare fiasco.
There???s also been the Benghazi fiasco, the IRS scandal, Fast and Furious, etc. How many scandals does it take?
At some point though, as Ron Fournier wrote in a National Journal piece, even Democrats are now starting to check out of Obama. Even they have even had enough of this guy. He doesn???t have to run again, but the Democrats do want to hold on to the Senate, and everything like this that happens seems to me makes it that much more likely that they???re going to lose.
One thing I can pretty much guarantee you is that they???re not going to be detaining them in Arkansas or Louisiana, probably not North Carolina or Montana either. They???re going to pick where they???re sending these people with clearly political calculations. Because like I said last time, they sent a bunch of detainees to Arkansas, and there the Democrat governor, Bill Clinton, lost re-election, because of the consequences of it.
Could be a kind of silver lining for the Republicans?
Yes, in a sort of Trotsky-ite ???worse is better??? sense.
Teresa Mull is managing editor of Human Events.