House Speaker John Boehner’s most recent delay tactic in preventing passage of an immigration reform bill has been to state that Republicans have “widespread doubt about whether [the Obama] administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.” As anyone paying attention to the immigration debate is aware, this is a ridiculous statement—the Obama administration has steadily increased the number of deportations conducted compared to previous administrations. The most recent statistics show that almost 420,000 immigrants were deported in fiscal year 2012, more immigrants deported in a single year by any president.
A recent essay in the D.C. news website The Hill by a retired immigration judge makes a powerful argument against that ridiculous claim. Retired Judge John Gossart, Jr. remarks:
“In my thirty-one years as a United States immigration judge, I have never had as many people come through my courtroom as I have over the last six years. During this time, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of non-citizens that the United States detains and deports, and the detained number of individuals appearing in immigration courts today is unprecedented. The administration has indisputably increased immigration enforcement in communities across the country, partnering with local law enforcement to pursue an aggressive deportation program that has resulted in nearly 2 million deportations in the last six years.”
Judge Gossart also makes the excellent, and too-often-ignored point that these are not just undocumented immigrants coming through his courts to be deported. Many people do not understand that legal permanent residents (“green card holders”) are also subject to deportation, for even minor crimes.
Judge Gossart relates the story of a young Cambodian immigrant and successful college student who has lived lawfully in the United States since she was one year old. After she served a 3-month jail sentence for possessing a few pills of ecstasy, he was required to deport her to a country she does not remember, and where she knows no one, because the immigration laws do not allow him any discretion to consider her individual circumstances.
Nearly all of the discussion surrounding immigration reform has been about whether undocumented immigrants should have a path to citizenship, and certainly we must find a way for immigrants who put down roots in our communities to fully participate in our American society. But Judge Gossart’s piece also highlights that the deportation machine entraps lawfully present immigrants and U.S. citizen family members as well. This enforcement-on-steroids approach is costing us billions of dollars a year, and tearing apart families and communities in the process.
It’s time for an immigration system that is fair and humane, and that looks at each immigrant as an individual – rewarding their contributions and recognizing their individual flaws and achievements. And it’s also time for Speaker Boehner and other reform opponents to stop the myth-making about the current enforcement regime that is, if anything, unnecessarily harsh.