President Obama is doing everything in his power—and arguably some things outside of his enumerated power—to limit enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. The president’s primary agenda is aimed at overcoming the legislative process through an administrative push for illegal-alien amnesty. This has involved narrowing the scope of enforcement among agencies while providing de facto amnesty for a sizable portion of the twelve million illegal aliens in the United States. Additionally, the administration wants to limit state efforts on illegal immigration through lawsuits and a scaling back of state-federal cooperation, as most recently seen with the administration’s lawsuit against Arizona. The administration’s amnesty agenda has generated intense frustration among Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol agents, and that frustration is spreading to the American public.
A year into Obama’s tenure, many immigration agents concluded that enforcement was being subordinated to the amnesty agenda. On June 11, 2010, ICE Union leaders issued a unanimous no-confidence vote in ICE Director John Morton. They said their action “reflects the growing dissatisfaction and concern” among ICE employees and union leaders that the agency had abandoned its core mission of enforcing U.S. immigration laws. Instead, the union statement said, the agency had been “campaigning for programs and policies relating to amnesty” that were “misguided and reckless.”
The union also raised concerns about the lack of prosecution of aliens incarcerated in local jails, noting that aliens “openly brag to ICE officers” that they are taking advantage of lax enforcement and will return to the United States within days of deportation.
The union expressed concern over “a priority of providing bingo nights, dance lessons and hanging plants” to detained illegal immigrants and a decision to prohibit ICE officers from searching the premises for weapons, drugs and other contraband, thus putting detainees and ICE officials at risk.
Since then, the union’s concerns have grown as the extent of the administrative amnesty has become clearer.
On June 17, 2011, ICE Director John Morton issued a memo on prosecutorial discretion that the ICE union called a “law enforcement nightmare developed by the Administration to win votes at the expense of sound and responsible law enforcement policy.” The union also warned that the Obama administration was implementing unwritten “secret changes” to immigration policies. In the ICE union’s press release, Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, warned, “Unable to pass its immigration agenda through legislation, the Administration is now implementing it through agency policy.”
In August 2011, news broke that the White House was implementing a “prioritization” plan designed to scale back deportations and limit enforcement to the worst offenders—meaning illegal aliens who had committed a violent crime in addition to the immigration violation. The new approach was outlined in a leaked USCIS memo titled “Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” The memo’s authors referred to the effort as a “non-legislative amnesty,” and ICE officers were instructed to consider: the person’s length of presence in the United States; the circumstances of the person’s arrival; the person’s pursuit of education in the United States; the person’s ties and contributions to the community; whether the person or the person’s spouse is pregnant or nursing. Ultimately, the goal is to limit removal efforts to only the “worst of the worst” while giving a pass to millions of illegal aliens.
According to a leaked ICE memo, DHS seeks to establish a two-phase legalization process for the nation’s illegal-immigrant population. The first phase would require aliens to be “registered, fingerprinted, screened and considered for an interim status that allows them to work in the U.S.” The second phase would allow aliens who fulfilled additional statutory requirements to become lawful permanent residents. DHS felt that even without legislation, “much of Phase 1 . . . could still be implemented, either by the Secretary of Homeland Security granting eligible applicants deferred action status or the President granting deferred enforced departure.” These plans were confirmed in an official ICE memo on June 17, 2011.
The latest development includes President Obama’s unilateral move on the so-called DREAM Act aliens, where the president has decreed, through a memo, that ICE will not deport up to 1.5 million illegal aliens who can prove they entered the United States before age sixteen and have not yet reached the age of thirty. While details of the administrative amnesty remain unclear, the White House has promised to provide these individuals with work permits.