America’s deportation machine

President Barak Obama-Deportation of Immigrants president Obama

 

The great expulsion

President Barak Obama has presided over the greatest mass deportation of “illegal aliens” in American history. Last year America removed 369,000 undocumented migrants, an increase of nine times compared with 20 years ago . This takes the total number of the deported to almost 2 million people in Barack Obama’s presidency.

It is also a political problem for Mr. Obama. The president was heckled while giving a speech on immigration in California in November by a man who shouted that he had the authority to halt the deportations and ought to use it. “Actually, I don’t,” replied Mr. Obama: an unusual thing for a president to say. At the other end of the political spectrum, his administration is criticized for not deporting enough people. When the deportation numbers for 2013 were released Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that the slight decline compared with the year before was “just more evidence that the Obama administration refuses to enforce our immigration laws.”

How has a president who campaigned hard on migration reform come to preside over the expulsion of more migrants than ever? The government has long had the authority to expel undocumented migrants, but deporting them all is impractical (there are reckoned to be 11.7m). It has therefore chosen to concentrate on getting rid of criminals. This category is more elastic than it might seem. It was expanded in 1996, when a Republican-controlled Congress passed a tough immigration law and illegal border crossings were running at four times their current level.

It is also a political problem for Mr. Obama. The president was heckled while giving a speech on immigration in California in November by a man who shouted that he had the authority to halt the deportations and ought to use it. “Actually, I don’t,” replied Mr. Obama: an unusual thing for a president to say. At the other end of the political spectrum, his administration is criticized for not deporting enough people. When the deportation numbers for 2013 were released Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that the slight decline compared with the year before was “just more evidence that the Obama administration refuses to enforce our immigration laws.”

How has a president who campaigned hard on migration reform come to preside over the expulsion of more migrants than ever? The government has long had the authority to expel undocumented migrants, but deporting them all is impractical (there are reckoned to be 11.7m). It has therefore chosen to concentrate on getting rid of criminals. This category is more elastic than it might seem. It was expanded in 1996, when a Republican-controlled Congress passed a tough immigration law and illegal border crossings were running at four times their current level.

The effects of this change in the law were limited at first. The year after it passed 115,000 people were deported. This is because the means to enforce it were not available. That changed after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks when, by an odd jump of logic, a mass murder committed by mostly Saudi terrorists resulted in an almost limitless amount of money being made available for the deportation of Mexican house-painters. America now spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all the other main federal law-enforcement agencies combined (see chart 2).

Much of that spending has created a border agency that can operate throughout the country. Before the September 11th 2001 attacks it was considered a threat to liberty for agencies to share too much information. After the report of the 9/11 Commission the opposite became true. The result is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency charged with doing the deporting, can now quickly determine whether someone serving a prison sentence for a serious crime is eligible to be deported when their time is up. More controversially, it also allows ICE to see whether someone charged by the police with relatively minor offences can also be deported.

Of the 369,000 people deported last year, roughly two-thirds were people who had been stopped while trying to cross the border. The rest—134,000 of them—were picked up in the interior of the country. One of them was Adrian Revuelta, 29, who had lived in Oklahoma for ten years and worked at IHOP, a pancake house, before being deported for driving without a license. In jail, he says, his documents were torn up and his contact numbers, jacket and cap were thrown in the bin. Worst of all was his criminal record: “It means I can never go back.” Yet all the time, he says, his brain is full of memories of his friends and colleagues in Oklahoma. On Facebook, he winces when people he knows talk about meeting at Denny’s, or to play soccer. “It is like a knife stuck in my side,” he says. “The way you are treated is not human.”

The turning of police officers into immigration officials has brought border enforcement into areas of the country far from the deserts of the south-west. Secure Communities, the name given to the programme that links police work to the immigration database, began life in a single jurisdiction in Texas in 2008 at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. By May 2013 it was operating everywhere.

The great expulsion which America is carrying out is removing some people who have committed violent crimes. But it is also expelling economic migrants, some of whom have been working in America for decades, and splitting up families. In the two years to September 2012, 205,000 parents were deported.

 

(Source…Economist Graphicdetail & Department of Home land Security)

About the Author
Moses M'Bowe, is the Chief International Correspondent, For New Africa Business News And New Africa Daily News.

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