Not only has the administration made enforcement the focus of its immigration policy, spending $18 billion last year and deporting more immigrants than any previous administration, but the number of people detained by federal officials nearly doubled from about 200,000 per year in 2001 to close to 400,000 in 2011, according to the study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.
The report will not convince all of the administration’s critics, many of whom won’t be satisfied until the border is hermetically sealed. These are the critics who support the noxious anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona and some other states, and who continue to ignore facts and insist that it is the White House itself that is undermining enforcement efforts. In reality, the number of agents assigned to patrol the border has nearly doubled over the last seven years, even as the number of immigrants attempting to enter the United States illegally appears to be at a near 40-year low.
The Obama administration’s immigration policies have not always been perfect. The president has rightly put a priority on targeting criminals rather than those who are simply in the country illegally, a civil violation. Yet his Department of Homeland Security has at times failed to follow those very directives, and has pursued low-level arrestees such as street vendors with the same fervor as it goes after violent members of street gangs. Recent administrative changes to the controversial federal program known as Secure Communities are expected to improve the situation.
Congress should pay attention to the Migration Policy Institute report. The administration has done what it can administratively; now it’s time for federal lawmakers to provide a true legislative fix for a badly broken system.