Liberals and conservatives share a common tic when it comes to immigration enforcement: They each want to deport as many illegal immigrants as their cold hearts desire – Democrats to protect union jobs, and Republicans to reverse what they see as the Latinization of America.
But then, because neither wants to come off like the bad guy, they feel compelled to go out of their way to cloak the removals in bogeyman language.
Former President Barack Obama claimed that his record number of deportees was made up largely of “gangbangers” – 3 million of them. Who knew that America was so gang-infested? Those of us who covered this story know that – after eroding the discretion of local and federal officers – Obama deported scores of housekeepers, farmworkers and old ladies selling tamales without a permit.
Now President Donald Trump, who prefers the scary term “bad hombres,” is borrowing Obama’s falsehood and insisting that, of the 680 illegal immigrants rounded up in a dozen states and slated for deportation by his Department of Homeland Security, most were criminals. The administration claims that some even had criminal convictions. But in a disturbing development that reveals a profound misunderstanding of immigration law, a DHS official also said that the mere act of being in the country without documents was enough to characterize someone as a “criminal alien.” Wrong, it isn’t. Immigration statutes are based in civil law.
“Waitress, may I please have a double order of baloney?”
Apparently, the messy and heartbreaking business of deportations – with all those divided families, public protests and crying children – is where “Hope and Change” intersects with “Make America Great Again.”
Lefties got offended and pushed back against that comparison. But the facts were not on their side.
CNN aired what must have been a parody where Univision’s Jorge Ramos – a partisan Democrat impersonating a journalist – told Anderson Cooper that Trump changed the rules. According to Ramos, Obama only deported those who were “convicted of crimes.”
That’s loco. Ramos – whose daughter worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign – needs to get out of Miami and go to the front line of America’s immigration debate: the Southwest. When he gets to San Diego, I’ll pick him up at the airport, buy him tacos and introduce him to the retired police lieutenant in a suburban city who told me that his squad room had a special desk for Obama’s immigration agents. Suspects would be brought in for other crimes and, if they couldn’t prove legal status, they would be scooped up by the feds. And shipped out. No paperwork, no mug shot, no nada.
Jorge, this was Obama’s America. Get it straight. Otherwise, you’re only creating more fog.
So let’s clear some away. When you hear about these immigration raids and how immigrants feel terrorized, even if they’re here legally, remember three things.
▪ We don’t know and we may never know if these were raids or targeted apprehensions as the administration claims, and whether they were the result of Trump pulling some trigger. David Marin, director for enforcement and removal operations in the Los Angeles field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told The Associated Press that the agency carries out such operations every few months. Marin said the California operation was planned “before the administration came out with their current executive orders.”
▪ The United States has the right to protect its borders, enforce the law and deport the undocumented. For crying out loud, this is what Border Patrol agents – about half of whom are Latino – do for a living! Many of the undocumented are good people who make a big contribution. Still, some have become way too comfortable living somewhere they shouldn’t be. They can’t be surprised about what’s happening.
▪ That said, as former ICE Director John Morton once told me, we can’t deport our way out of our immigration woes. Just because we have the right to remove the undocumented doesn’t mean we should always exercise that right. Mass deportations make lousy public policy. Our immigration problem has many components: a porous border, labor shortages in industries such as farming, lazy teenagers who won’t do the jobs grandpa did, 11 million undocumented people, the fact that American employers are addicted to illegal labor, etc. Enforcement, however justified, isn’t the cure-all.
Beware of the spin. America’s immigration policy is under new management. But, below the masthead, it’s pretty much business as usual.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.