The Obama Watch

Obama’s Immigration Power Play

What the amnesty memos and the Arizona lawsuit reveal about this administration's views of immigration enforcement -- and the will of the people.

By 8.2.10

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Last week, the Obama administration got Clinton-appointed Judge Susan Bolton to at least temporarily throw out key provisions of Arizona's immigration law. Within 24 hours came more evidence that they weren't done eviscerating immigration enforcement yet.

That proof came in the form of an astonishing internal memo outlining ways the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) could effectively legalize at least tens of thousands of illegal immigrants even if Congress fails to enact amnesty. Some would be granted resident status with the USCIS simply giving them green cards. Others would be allowed to evade deportation, possibly indefinitely.

"In the absence of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, CIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations," said the memo, which was prepared by four senior officials from different parts of USCIS for the agency's director. Two of the memo's authors are Obama appointees, as is USCIS head Alejandro N. Mayorkas.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) made the 11-page document public last Thursday, arguing in a public statement, "This memo gives credence to our concerns that the administration will go to great lengths to circumvent Congress and unilaterally execute a back door amnesty plan." In June, Grassley and six other senators sent President Obama a letter asking him to deny rumors that his underlings were contemplating amnesty by executive fiat.

Now we have good reason to believe the rumors were true. One proposal contained in the memo was that the USCIS grant "parole in place," which comes with a work permit and the right to apply for a green card, to various illegal immigrants. Another suggestion was to give "deferred action," delaying deportation indefinitely and preserving eligibility to apply for a work permit, to illegal aliens who would have benefited from the DREAM Act.

That would be the same DREAM Act, incidentally, that Congress has repeatedly failed to pass, much as it has shot down broader-based amnesty proposals.

Finally, the memos' authors suggest that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could simply stop issuing the "notice to appear" letters that begin the deportation process. The only exception would be in cases where the illegal alien is found to have "significant negative immigration or criminal history."

The exposure of this memo understandably generated controversy, which the administration was eager to tamp down. A hastily issued USCIS statement insisted that the memos were just a draft and that "nobody should mistake deliberation and exchange of ideas for final decisions."

"To be clear," the statement continued, "DHS will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation's entire illegal immigrant population." As the Church Lady used to say, "Well, isn't that special?"

Even if the memo merely shows mid-level bureaucrats engaging in a brainstorming session about how to undermine the immigration laws they are being paid to uphold, it captures the essence of this administration's approach to immigration enforcement. Criminal prosecutions of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants are down and worksite raids have virtually stopped. The DHS official running the Office of Detention and Removal Operations has admitted the administration is, as a matter of policy, trying to avoid arresting illegals.

According to one report, through May administrative arrests were down 81 percent from 2008, criminal arrests down 67 percent, indictments are down 73 percent, and convictions down 75 percent. "I think there have been very few operations that have generated arrests of undocumented workers," David Venturella, the acting director in charge of such operations, was quoted as saying at an Urban Institute event.

But what about reports that the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants? Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the Washington Post that they planned to deport 400,000 people this fiscal year, up 10 percent from 2008 and 25 percent from 2007.

Like their predecessors in the generally lax Bush administration, Obama's immigration henchmen can be counted on to periodically ratchet up enforcement when doing so will aid the call for "comprehensive immigration reform." Most of this uptick reflects a recent effort to identify illegal aliens who have committed other crimes.

Yet neither the deportations of criminal aliens nor the ballyhooed audits of companies that hire workers with bogus Social Security numbers really turn off the jobs magnet luring illegal immigrants into this country. Remember: as amnesty advocates are always fond of reminding us, we cannot deport every illegal immigrant in the United States. The main goal of attrition through enforcement is to entice large numbers of illegals to in effect deport themselves.

Focusing on the worst criminals among the illegal population -- and relatively light civil fines of employers who flunk their audits -- while giving de facto amnesty to everyone else will not reduce the number of illegal immigrants here to a manageable level. It will merely allow the Obama administration to appear tough while actually undermining attrition through enforcement.

States like Arizona have learned that serious immigration enforcement is a dirty job the federal government won't do -- and one that the Obama administration won't let anyone else perform, either. Even if they must rely on unaccountable federal judges and bureaucrats, it is amnesty or bust, the will of the people and their elected representatives be damned.

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About the Author

W. James Antle III, author of the new book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?, is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a senior editor of The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jimantle.