Keeping a Progressive Eye on Immigration Reform: Enforcement


One of the most ubiquitous arguments made on the issue of immigration is that before we can do anything of a progressive nature we need to “secure our borders.”

If we don’t “secure our borders,” heaven alone knows what will happen!  The terrists will get in, that’s for sure.  And millions of Mexicans and others from Latin America will descend upon our fair nation like a hail of locusts and we shall all be destroyed in the horror.

Over at Migra Matters, Duke Reed has a post entitled The down-payment’s been paid, when will the goods be delivered?.

To those who are convinced enforcement-only policies are paramount, the question all progressives should ask is:  How much enforcement is enough?

Duke tells the tale:

For years, all we’ve heard from those opposed to immigration and immigration reform is that until the government could prove that it was “serious” about border security and enforcement, no meaningful discussion of immigration reform was going to take place. The mantra of “we can’t reform immigration laws until we control immigration, and we can’t control immigration unless we control our borders” has been the guiding principle behind every obstructionist attempt to derail systematic reform. And attempts to appease restrictionists, by adopting “enforcement first” policies” have become the accepted framework from which all discussions were forced to start.

But most of those working for positive change have known all along that “enforcement first” is just a catch-22. It’s an ever-moving target that was never intended to be reached. The ultimate goal of those opposed to reform has never been to “control” immigration…but rather to end it.

Yet despite these obvious facts, both the Bush and Obama administrations dived head first into the enforcement waters.

The last few years have been marked by hugely escalating enforcement budgets, increased apprehension, deportation and detention, increased use of local law enforcement, raids, and employer audits.

The statistics are troubling (emphasis mine).

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) and Warren Institute at the University of California at Berkeley recently released reports highlighting the dramatic increase in federal immigration prosecutions and the link to Operation Streamline, a DHS program which mandates federal criminal prosecution of all persons caught crossing the border unlawfully.

The Warren Institute report highlights the impact of Operation Streamline on immigration enforcement and the TRAC report shows that federal immigration prosecutions rose to record levels during fiscal year 2009 and how a shift in priorities has created the largest number of federal immigration prosecutions of non-violent border crossers ever.


# Immigration prosecutions make up 54 percent of all federal criminal prosecutions. The most prosecuted federal immigration crimes in FY 2009 were for immigrants caught entering the United States at an improper time or place, totaling approximately 40,000. Between 2002 and 2008, prosecutions for first time illegal entry in border district courts increased 330% from 12,411 to 53,697

# Illegal reentry of a deported alien accounted for nearly 22,000 prosecutions in FY 2009.

# In contrast, potential smuggling charges were brought less frequently. TRAC found 2,980 prosecutions for bringing in and harboring certain aliens, and 106 prosecutions for aiding and abetting an illegal entry.

# 85% of the prosecutions originated with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) accounted for 13% of the prosecutions.

President Obama has continued these policies (keep in mind, please, that this is all under the auspices of DHS which is part of the Executive Branch).

If we add the fact that President Obama’s proposed budget for 2011 includes additional increases in spending along the border and for interior enforcement it becomes obvious that the enforcement juggernaut has far from reached its end.

Do you remember several years ago, during the Bush dark ages, we all read about Halliburton building mysterious “facilities” all around the country and the initial theory was that they were going to round up all of us dirty libruls and put us in detention camps?

Well the citizens — for now — remain safe.

Instead they incarcerated entire migrant families — for profit.  Many people died in these detention centers, most notably, the Hutto center in Texas.  Took a lawsuit and years of torment for our brothers and sisters before that was changed.  Think of it.  Entire families put in prison.

To those who insist enforcement must come first … well it has.  It has and it continues.  As Duke says:

How large a price must be paid by immigrant communities before there is a remedy? How many more mothers must be separated from their children? How many families torn apart? Communities terrorized? How many more lives destroyed and futures taken away?

When will the down payment paid in suffering and sorrow be acknowledged … and the promise of reform finally be honored.?

I think it’s fair to say …NOW!!!!!!

Several comments in my previous essays on immigration asked a good question.  Why bother fighting the tide when it comes to this issue?  The Dems are spineless, Obama is going along with whatever is the path of least resistance.  What can one person do in the face of all this disinformation and opposing power?

I remember why I started blogging.  I wanted to be a citizen journalist and get at the truth.  I knew the information I was getting from traditional media and our own government representatives was a lie.

So I learned in very stark terms in those days what it meant to be an “informed citizen.”

The pro-migrant community, acting as advocates, does excellent work in getting out the truth of what’s happened to our fellow human beings when it comes to immigration.  And there are stories here and there in the liberal blogosphere about the human rights abuses towards migrants – everyone gets all sad and then forgets everything in the face of the daily stresses of modern living.

I believe progressive bloggers have a role to play in doing more than merely documenting the atrocities (h/t Atrios).  There’s a political story here and as progressives, if we don’t tell that story, provide a true progressive narrative, no one else will.


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  1. Nightprowlkitty

    … for building a progressive narrative.

    You can bet the MSM/OFA/DLC folks will be working hard on theirs.

  2. rhetoricus

    As if. Then the big corporations would just smuggle their slave labor in on official trucks.

    The whole issue would go away if exploitative employers were cracked down upon, and if labor laws were enforced with teeth on the employer side.

  3. Nightprowlkitty

    … that were true.

    But we also need, I believe, to look at the root causes of migration.

    In Mexico, so many of our NAFTA policies (and even before NAFTA) have caused Mexicans to lose their livelihood.  Davidseth has written about the corn farmers extensively, but it extends to far more than that.

    Our global policies in general and our overconsumption of world resources is a factor as well.

    On a different level, the way we look at migration is all wrong — human beings have always been migrants.  Think back to the Depression when “Okies” were barred from entering California because the Dust Bowl had caused so much migration.

    There are a lot of levels to this issue.

  4. AmericanRiverCanyon

    … that the southern border was much more open because a lot of seasonal ag and construction laborers didn’t want to stay here full time, just come up for the spring, summer, fall, then go home.

    Because like it or not, they’re doing those jobs here nobody else will do, very physically demanding jobs that other people consider beneath them.

    With the terrorist paranoia about open borders, that screeched to a halt, and the Republicans made a huge deal about trying to equal Mexican and Latino day laborers with terrorists because it was a great fund raising mechanism to scare the elderly into donating.  By refusing to issue enough visas, the Republicans could keep the labor pool illegal and thus much cheaper.

    Plus, everybody ignores that there is a huge Chinese and Tibetian and Irish and many other nationalities of undocumented immigrants who are here for various reasons but can’t get visas.  They’re here because they don’t want to die or starve to death where they were.  There are people here who had visas and somehow fell thru the cracks of keeping their legal status, thru no fault of their own.  

    Thus this “seal the border” routine has trapped people on both sides, and has been nothing but a boon to the Republican party.

  5. rhetoricus
  6. rhetoricus

    But this:

    “Because like it or not, they’re doing those jobs here nobody else will do, very physically demanding jobs that other people consider beneath them.”

    ..is absolute horseshit, and an insult to laborers on this side of the border.

    There is NOTHING Americans won’t do. IF they are able to demand a prevailing wage. Herein lies the difference.

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