Here's a fact that will annoy pretty much everyone involved in the debate over illegal immigration and the border: President Obama oversaw more deportations than President Donald Trump has overseen.
It's true. In 2012, the Obama administration kicked 419,384 people out of the United States, a single-year record that still stands, despite two years (and counting) of Trump framing himself as America's border-guard-in-chief. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted that he would remove "millions" of illegal immigrants if given a second term in the White House—but last year Trump managed to deport merely 256,000 people.
Those facts are problematic for the current debate over immigration policy, in which Democrats try to frame Trump as being unreasonably cruel towards immigrants—a title that Trump (and many of his supporters) seem pretty happy to embrace.
Joe Biden invoked that false narrative in response to a question about immigration policy during Thursday's Democratic primary debate. Biden was, of course, part of the Obama administration, and when debate moderators asked him to justify the Obama administration's record deportation numbers, he refused to do so.
Confronted with number of deportations under Obama, Biden pushes back…
"To compare [Obama] to what this guy (Trump) is doing is close to immoral."
— Laura Barrón-López (@lbarronlopez) June 28, 2019
Biden should have been ready for exactly this type of question. Earlier this week, a Biden-penned op-ed in the Miami Herald (the same city where this week's debates are being held) condemned the "morally bankrupt re-election strategy" that relies on "vilifying immigrants to score political points."
Sure, Trump vilifies immigrants more than Obama ever did. But actions speak louder than words—or tweets.
But Biden forgot to mention that Trump, despite his best efforts, might not be able to match the lofty deportation record of the previous administration, in which Biden himself was second in command. Nor did Biden say a word about the 2012 Criminal Alien Removal Initiative, a nasty little Obama-era pilot program that I wrote about here. Under it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in plainclothes and unmarked vans would park themselves outside Latino grocery stores, apartment buildings, parks, neighborhoods, and—on one occasion at least—a Bible Study group, and confront whomever they wished, demanding to know their immigration status. The ICE agents would handcuff and detain those they suspected—without a warrant or formal charges, much less allowing them a phone call and legal representation—and forcibly fingerprint them with a high-tech mobile unit. They'd then run the fingerprints through federal databases, a process that would sometimes take hours, during which time the detainees couldn't leave to pick up their children or get to their jobs. All those flagged as undocumented, even if they were not criminals and therefore not the program's primary targets, would be dispatched immediately to detention facilities to await deportation.
Here's the Cato Institute's immigration policy guru Alex Nowrasteh, weighing in last week:
President Obama earned the nickname Deporter-in-Chief. From 2009-2016, Obama's administration deported 1,242,286 people from the interior of the U.S. That does not include the 1,507,220 border removals during that time. https://t.co/pCYw2AxWhV
— (((The Alex Nowrasteh))) (@AlexNowrasteh) June 21, 2019
Indeed, Biden has a long and, for Democratic primary voters, probably problematic, record on immigration. He voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006 during the George W. Bush administration—an earlier, less grandiose, version of Trump's border wall, but one that still managed to cost taxpayers $2.5 billion. As a member of the Senate in 1996, he supported the Bill Clinton-signed Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which created new criminal penalties for illegal immigration and required "expedited removal."
Biden's got a long record of holding high political offices. That's usually a boon for him, but immigration is one area (criminal justice is the other big one) where that long record is an obvious liability.
The best way to deal with that liability? Biden should stop trying to pretend that the facts aren't the facts.