Like Snoopy chasing the red baron, President Obama is in hot pursuit of a phantom menace in tax breaks for corporate jets. But when it comes to the real threat posed by porous borders, the evidence keeps piling up that the administration's immigration enforcement is largely window dressing.
Despite regularly touting record deportations, the Obama administration has twice been caught red-handed discussing an administrative amnesty for illegal immigrants. Senate Republicans obtained a memo circulated within the upper reaches of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlining ways immigration bureaucrats and attorneys could use their discretion in individual hardship cases to effectively amnesty illegals without Congress changing the law. TAS later acquired a similar document making its way around the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Just brainstorming, administration spokesmen promised. No policymaking. DHS issued a less-than-reassuring statement that they would not grant humanitarian parole or deferred action to the entire illegal immigrant population.
Last week, the Houston Chronicle uncovered a connection between the Obama administration's immigration words and deeds. After spending nearly a year investigating the issue, the Houston paper obtained emails and internal memos showing the administration's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sought to avoid removing illegal aliens who were not "top" enforcement priorities -- and then to downplay their actions when controversy ensued.
Records show that hundreds of cases were dismissed against illegal aliens in the Houston area. "A string of emails shows the dismissals had the blessings of top attorneys at ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., last summer," the Houston Chronicle reports, "and that other ICE legal offices across the country were encouraged to consider measures to better use the agency's limited resources to target dangerous criminals."
When first discovered last August, DHS maintained to both Congress and the press that the dismissals were very limited in scope. ICE and DHS spokesmen said that only an extremely narrow class of illegal immigrants with pending green card applications was actually affected. Nelson Peacock, DHS's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, specifically told Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans the prosecutorial discretion only "affects very few aliens, generally non-criminals who have married a U.S. citizen."
Not so, the Chronicle reports: "[N]ewly released documents show conclusively that government attorneys in Houston were given wide latitude to file motions to dismiss cases, including some involving immigrants with convictions for primarily misdemeanor offenses."
What happened in Houston is likely happening all over America. According to one analysis, the number of cases dismissed against illegal aliens increased 40 percent during the 2010 fiscal year over the previous one. While the Obama administration has admirably targeted illegal aliens who are committing serious crimes, its "top priorities" do not include enforcing the law against the vast majority of people who are in this country illegally.
ICE Director John Morton told agency employees in a June 2010 memo that they only had the resources to remove about 4 percent of the illegal immigrant population annually, so they had to be picky. Many career immigration enforcement professionals have blasted Morton's policies as too lenient.
While the evidence suggests the administration misled both the public and Congress about its selective enforcement practices, some officials are getting bolder. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified that it "doesn't make sense" to deport illegal aliens who would benefit from the DREAM Act amnesty. But Congress has repeatedly declined to pass the DREAM Act.
These revelations come as the Obama administration is increasingly being hit from all sides of the immigration debate. Hispanic and immigrant rights groups are angry that Obama has not delivered on amnesty legislation and dislike its deportation programs, such as Secure Communities. At the same time, border patrol and customs agents are increasingly expressing a lack of confidence in their Obama-appointed political leaders.
President Obama's people are taking the long view: have high-profile deportations of criminal aliens now, while leaving most illegal immigrants alone. Boost the official deportation statistics to show the administration is doing everything it can to enforce the law. And then use these claims to bolster support for a "comprehensive" solution -- i.e., amnesty.
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, did much the same thing. The Bush administration noticeably stepped up enforcement after amnesty was voted down the second time.
The Bush DHS originated the Secure Communities program that now contributes mightily toward the Obama team's deportation numbers.
Whether the political gambit will pay off remains anyone's guess. But one thing is clear. The Obama administration is riddling immigration law with loopholes big enough to fly a corporate jet through. While cleaning up the tax code, it's time to plug up the holes in our borders too.