Friday, February 27, 2015

Who Cares about Security?

In the current debate over funding of Homeland Security, both sides are predictably accusing the other of putting the nation’s security at risk by refusing to cooperate with the other side.  Without an agreement, funding for Homeland Security, which guards our borders, processes immigration benefits, etc., will be at unavailable.

But look at what is below the funding debate and ask which path is more secure.  The President issued an executive order deferring deportation for certain non-criminal long term residents without legal status, but with strong relationships in the U.S. or strong equities for being permitted to remain (e.g. immigrants brought here as children without legal status).  Opponents don’t like the executive order granting temporary legal status to those that qualify and won’t pass funding for Homeland Security unless the executive order is rescinded, or at least made incapable of being carried out.  They have also sued to enjoin it from being carried out, and a federal judge in Houston has agreed, although that decision is widely expected to be overturned in due course, and the executive order will take effect eventually.

Apart from the legality of the executive order, which I strongly support (along with over 100 constitutional law scholars across the country), which option makes more sense for the security of the country?  The status quo is a haphazard roundup of whoever may fall into the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement arm of Homeland Security.   This can be anyone from migrant workers to scientists who have fallen out of status, to parents of U.S. citizens (in the hundreds of thousands) to criminal aliens.  It can be recent border crossers to residents with over 10-20 years of peaceful work in the U.S.  In fact, over half of the 11.2 million estimated unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. have been here 10 years or more.

The agencies all recognize that they are simply incapable of removing every unauthorized alien in the U.S., even if they wanted to.  The costs would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the economic damage would be severe.  There has been untold human suffering already in the over two million persons removed from the U.S. during the current administration.  The destruction that action has caused and continues to cause for immigrant and U.S. families, many of whom have mixed status people in the household, is enormous. 

But would attempted continuation of the current failed effort to remove every unauthorized immigrant make us more secure?  Absolutely not.  A deferred action plan, such as proposed by the President, would require people to come forward and register.  They would be fingerprinted and their criminal histories checked.  Those with criminal history would be ineligible and would likely not come forward or would and be referred to ICE for removal.  The administration estimates about 5 million would be eligible for this temporary relief.  They would be allowed to remain temporarily and receive work authorization while waiting for Congress to fashion a permanent solution.  Enforcement resources could then be directed toward those who do not register and those who do not qualify.  In the President’s scheme, this would be criminal aliens, and recent arrivals, including those attempting to cross at the border. 

With all the focus on giving a temporary reprieve for those mentioned above, it is forgotten that the President’s plan would also shift significant resources to apprehending criminal aliens and those attempting to cross at the borders, rather than the more expensive interior enforcement aimed at settled immigrant communities.

Law enforcement groups widely support this kind of plan, as do a large number of mayors of large U.S. cities.  Why?  Because they need immigrant communities to cooperate with them in law enforcement.  If the immigrant communities fear going to the police, or even talking to them, because they might be turned over to ICE, they won’t cooperate, and crimes will not be solved and criminals will not be punished.  Even persons here with legal status are often afraid to go the police because they have a relative living with them that has no status.  If a significant portion of these immigrant communities are permitted to come forward and get temporary legal status, it will allow law enforcement to focus on those who don’t come forward, and those attempting to enter illegally now.   

The executive action is a more secure situation for the nation, and long overdue.  To oppose the executive action because one simply cannot stomach some kind of "executive amnesty" is to value a random, ineffective, but too harsh punishment of non-criminal immigrants over national security.

To be clear, this is not a substitute for congressional action, but until Congress can find the will to act, the President’s executive action is a perfectly sensible, moral, and more secure action to take on behalf of the country.