Obama Orders Review of Deportation Policies: Too Little, Too Late?

Placating erstwhile allies


What's happening today, March 14:

Nearly six years after taking office, President Obama, whose term has seen a significant uptick in deportations, has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to review whether deportation policies can be enforced more "humanely." Nearly 2 million people have been deported by the Obama Administration so far, almost as many as under eight years of the Bush administration. The rate comes out to about 1,000 deportations a day, more than under any previous president. Obama made the promise of a review last night to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. His Republican critics, meanwhile, complain that the president's stance on deportations is already too lax, arguing that deportation figures are inflated.

The White House has refused to discuss what kind of policy changes could make deportation or humane or any timeline for when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson might report back to the president. The move was likely spurred by pressure from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), typically a stalwart Obama ally. The NCLR chief, Janet Murgia, called President Obama the "deporter-in-chief" in a speech highly critical of the president's immigration policies last week. She followed that up by identifying House Republicans as the "key barrier" to immigration reform. The Obama administration previously claimed there was nothing it could do to change deportation policies without an immigration reform law. The president is scheduled to meet about half a dozen immigration activists in the White House this afternoon.

New Analysis:

Though the review may have been meant to placate immigration activists who have lost patience with a president they have generally considered an ally, it appears not to be working. Salon reports:

Many immigrant rights activists are dubious that real change will come as a result of the review, particularly since the president has not signaled he intends to slow the tide of deportations that make the administration's policies so inhumane in the first place.

"Relief delayed is relief denied," Pablo Alvarado, the director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told the Times. "The president has no excuse to continue his unjust deportation policy." Breibart relays objections from a Republican congressional aide:

A Senate GOP aide told Breitbart News that these concerns [over high deportation numbers] are overblown because about two-thirds of what the amnesty advocacy community is considering deportations are actually removals of people caught as they were trying to cross the border. Johnson recently admitted as such in a congressional hearing.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the law enforcement agency that handles deportations from the nation's interior—reports that 98 percent of 2013 deportations were of convicted criminals, people who just crossed the border, or people who illegally re-entered the U.S. after being deported before. Last month, Steve Chapman noted that a shift on immigration policy within the Republican ranks in Congress was occurring:

Republicans disagree with President Barack Obama, who wants to create a new avenue for the undocumented to be naturalized. But Republicans don't rule out eventual citizenship, and they do address the most pressing concerns of the people here illegally: ending their fear of deportation and letting them work legally.

It's a major change, which makes it significant but also risky—not because of the response it may draw from Hispanics but because of the reaction it may provoke among Republicans. Many of them see unauthorized migrants as an affront to the rule of law, an alien cultural influence and a political threat. Nick Gillespie, meanwhile, laid part of the blame for Obama's inaction on deportation on Republicans who Obama might've upset with such a move:

Oh, but don't you see, it's politics what's tying the pesident's hands? If he issued ex cathedra orders—exactly like he has with aspects of Obamacare and bombing Libya and creating secret kill lists—he'd risk upsetting Republicans.

The nation's immigration system is a mess because more people want to live and work here than are allowed by law. The only way that will change is either be expanding the number of legal slots or making the country so awful that nobody wants to move here (I know, I know, we're getting there).

There's no question that the GOP is terrible on the issue, but so is the president. And he's the one who can actually stop deportations with the flick of his wrist. So why won't he? President Obama may be hoping the appearance of executive action will sufficiently placate those of his allies demanding actual executive action on immigration.

In outlining a "libertarian solution" to immigration reform, I pointed out that while Republican congressional leaders expected (wrongly) that the House would pass an immigration reform bill last year (after the Senate passed its own bill), earlier this year Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) suggested it was unlikely the House would pass any immigration reform bill this year, either. President Obama's order for a review, then, could also be a response to the reality that a new immigration reform law is unlikely this year.