Last week, The Washington Post’s editorial board criticized the GOP for trying to “frighten” voters about a wide-open border. The Post points to substantial increases in border security in the past decade as an indicator that the U.S. is already doing a great deal to stop illegal immigration. Yet, the article misses the real issues underlying the U.S.’s immigration problems: the Obama administration’s failure to enforce U.S. immigration laws, especially in the interior of the U.S. Once people illegally enter the U.S. interior, removing them has become increasingly difficult and rare.
Currently, there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. About 40 percent of those are thought to have entered the U.S. legally through visas but stayed after their visas expired. Border security has no effect on these illegal immigrants or others that have made their way deep into the U.S.
A recent Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report showed that interior deportations have dropped by 34 percent from fiscal year (FY) 2013 to FY 2014. Since FY 2009, interior enforcement has declined by 58 percent. Policy decisions made by the Obama administration are to blame.
Specifically, the administration has abused “prosecutorial discretion,” a practice which allows law enforcement to decide the extent to which they will prosecute the law against someone. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton announced several policies that expanded ICE’s use of “prosecutorial discretion.” Instead of using it for special cases, it became the default for many cases, as the Obama administration simply decided to not enforce the law against large groups of people who were not considered “enforcement priorities.” As a result, the enforcement of immigration laws is currently restricted to only a relatively small set of illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria.
The way the U.S. processes and handles the illegal immigrants whom it does catch makes it even more difficult to remove anyone already in the U.S. Even if an unlawful immigrant is placed in immigration removal proceedings, many flee or abscond to different areas of the country. According to internal ICE documents, ICE has issued final deportation orders for 882,943 immigrants who are not in custody.
These actions result in incentivizing illegal immigration, because once someone crosses the border and blends into the population, there are essentially no consequences.
The Post editorial praises recent efforts to secure the border, but this is a red herring, distracting Americans from the real problem of how U.S. immigration laws increasingly go unenforced.
David Inserra specializes in cyber and homeland security policy, including protection of critical infrastructure, as research assistant in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Heritage Foundation.