Column: ICE memo offers false hopeSAN DIEGO — What’s crueler than the Obama administration deporting nearly 1 million people and more cynical than accomplishing the feat by roping local police into enforcing immigration law while suing Arizona for doing the same thing?
By: Ruben Navarrette, Worthington Daily Globe
SAN DIEGO — What’s crueler than the Obama administration deporting nearly 1 million people and more cynical than accomplishing the feat by roping local police into enforcing immigration law while suing Arizona for doing the same thing?
This is crueler: Using bureaucratic sleight of hand to deceive and create false hope for “Dreamers.” Those are college-age illegal immigrants who — had the DREAM Act not been scuttled by five Senate Democrats — might have had a shot at legal status if they attend college or join the military.
This is more cynical: Going to all that trouble for no grander purpose than to defuse, during a re-election campaign, criticism from immigrant advocates.
That appears to be what occurred when John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, recently issued a six-page memo about “prosecutorial discretion” that appeared to circumvent Congress and offer Dreamers and others a special dispensation to keep them from being deported. Some online media outlets took the bait and reported that the administration had cleared the way for the provisions of the DREAM Act through an “executive order.”
Not true. Only the president can issue an executive order, which has the force of law. This was nothing more than a memorandum from the head of an agency.
The June 17 memo advises: “When weighing whether an exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be warranted for a given alien, ICE officers, agents, and attorneys should consider all relevant factors.”
These include: “the circumstances of the person’s arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child ... the person’s pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States ... whether the person, or the person’s immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military, reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat, etc.”
The language about college and the military fooled some people — on the right and the left — into thinking this was an attempt to get the DREAM Act in through the backdoor.
On the left, once the memo was leaked (oops!) to immigrant advocates, Obama supporters rushed to declare that their guy had delivered the goods. These poor folks are like a man stranded in the desert, reaching for an ice cold drink that isn’t there.
On the right, Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state and a renowned immigration restrictionist, also jumped to all the wrong conclusions about the memo.
“They’re pushing the (immigration) agents to be even more lax, to go further in not enforcing the law,” Kobach said. “At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed and looking for work, this is more bad news coming from the Obama administration.”
Kobach has had plenty of work. Before he was elected, he earned — according to the Center for American Progress — millions of dollars helping cities and states draft Arizona-style immigration laws. You know, the kind of measures that the courts have usually thrown out as unconstitutional.
But how much “pushing” is really going on here? The memo doesn’t prohibit or require anything. In fact, it ends with a disclaimer declaring “nothing in this memorandum should be construed to prohibit the apprehension, detention, or removal of any alien unlawfully in the United States or to limit the legal authority of ICE or any of its personnel to enforce federal immigration law.” The discretion still rests with agents and prosecutors in the field who can do as they please.
And what these cowboys have been doing is running a deportation machine that removes about 1,000 people a day. Judging by statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, this administration is an overachiever. In 2009, it removed 389,834 illegal immigrants. In 2010, the figure was 392,862. The goal for 2011 is 404,000.
So the administration will hit the 1 million mark sometime this summer. But don’t expect President Obama to mention this milestone when he speaks to the National Council of La Raza, the Latino advocacy group, at its annual conference in July. That is a speech for another audience.
My beef with this memo isn’t that it doesn’t go far enough. It’s that it doesn’t go anywhere — except in circles.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.