Immigration

Ted Cruz Evades Important Question: Would You Deport U.S. Citizens? (UPDATED)

Anti-birthright Republicans should make their deportation plans clear. But so should pro-'pathway' Democrats

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Anchor, baby. ||| Fox News
Fox News

Last night on Donald Trump's least favorite Fox News program, The Kelly File, GOP contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) also went after the suddenly controversial interviewer, complaining that a question she kept pressing him on—whether he'd deport the U.S.-citizen children of illegal immigrants, as Donald Trump would—is "the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask." Sick burn!

Anyway, the question—which Cruz, to his discredit, refused to answer—is an important one for those many 2016 GOP candidates (Trump, Cruz, Scott WalkerRand PaulRick SantorumLindsey GrahamBobby Jindal, etc.) who have come out against the birthright citizenship established by the plain text of the 14th amendment. We get that you wish to change the existing rules somehow (Trump and Ron Paul, to name two people, think you can do so without a constitutional amendment), but what to do about the estimated 4 million American-citizen kids having at least one illegal-immigrant parent? Given the rapid Trumpification of the 2016 nominating process, and Cruz's demonstrated readiness to strip U.S. citizenship in other contexts, the issue of forcibly expelling Americans from their native country—regardless of how appalling—is a live one, demanding clarification.

But that burden should not be limited to restrictionists. Democrats and other pathway-to-citizenship supporters should all be asked: So, exactly how many illegal immigrants do you think we should deport, and using what criteria? Because despite the seeming chasm between the pro-"Dreamer" left and the anti-"anchor baby" right, the fact is that the next president will likely deport at least 1 million human beings from this country.

Here's a detail that rarely gets brought up during nonsense-filled immigration debates: President Barack Obama has been a much bigger deporter-in-chief than George W. Bush.* The Department of Homeland Security issued 2 million deportations during Bush's tenure; Obama blew through that number in Year Five of his presidency:

Heckuva job, Baracky! ||| Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center

The administration has since made a sharp policy turn, triggering some of the heated debate we've seen over the past year, but there's no guarantee that his late-breaking deportation slowdown would be carried on by the next Democratic president, particularly if it's restrictionist Bernie Sanders.

So: Given the reduction of net migration from Mexico, the increase in border interdictions, the administration-on-administration increase in deportations, and the stabilization of the illegal population, what's a nice, round number for annual expulsions? 500,000? 50,000? 5,000? If we're going to have that National Conversation About Immigration, and if we're going to continue to focus that conversation (wrongly, in my view) on current illegal residents rather than expanding the number of legal visas, let's get all the presidential candidates on record: Who, and how many, will you deport? And will they include U.S. citizens?

* UPDATE: Commenter Bubba Jones points out that we can't do apples-to-apples comparisons of deportations, because some time during the Bush administration, border-turnbacks went from being counted separately, to be being classified as deportations. This L.A. Times explainer from last year is maddeningly vague on dates and numbers, but gives a sense:

Until recent years, most people caught illegally crossing the southern border were simply bused back into Mexico in what officials called "voluntary returns," but which critics derisively termed "catch and release." Those removals, which during the 1990s reached more 1 million a year, were not counted in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's deportation statistics.

Now, the vast majority of border crossers who are apprehended get fingerprinted and formally deported. The change began during the George W. Bush administration and accelerated under Obama. The policy stemmed in part from a desire to ensure that people who had crossed into the country illegally would have formal charges on their records.

In the Obama years, all of the increase in deportations has involved people picked up within 100 miles of the border, most of whom have just recently crossed over. In 2013, almost two-thirds of deportations were in that category.

At the same time, the administration largely ended immigration roundups at workplaces and shifted investigators into targeting business owners who illegally hired foreign workers.

"If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it's just highly unlikely to happen," John Sandweg, until recently the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview.