Opinion

It’s Time to End The Blame Game and Reform Immigration Policy

Thousands of families live in constant fear of deportation and separation while leaders in Washington bicker endlessly about who is most to blame.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 16: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (L) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) attend the dedication ceremony of the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center April 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. A member of Giffords' Congressional staff, Gabriel Zimmerman was murdered during a shooting spree January 8, 2011 that left six dead and 13 injured, including Giffords.
National Journal
Laura W. Murphy
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Laura W. Murphy
June 20, 2014, 1:15 a.m.

Something un­usu­al happened in Wash­ing­ton last week. A heav­ily favored, high pro­file in­cum­bent lost a primary chal­lenge. Head­lines were gen­er­ated, press re­leases were dashed off, and for a mo­ment it seemed as if the musty halls of Con­gress were fi­nally feel­ing the winds of change sweep through. Then the mo­ment passed, and as the dust settled, a fa­mil­i­ar stas­is re­turned.

As it turns out, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor’s de­feat has not changed all that much here in Wash­ing­ton. We’re back to the status quo, an end­less lit­any of ex­cuses for do­ing noth­ing on com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Thou­sands of fam­il­ies live in con­stant fear of de­port­a­tion and sep­ar­a­tion while lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton bick­er end­lessly about who is most to blame. Per­haps most dis­ap­point­ing of all, the pres­id­ent has not yet made good on his prom­ise to ad­dress the glar­ing in­hu­man­ity of our cur­rent im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem.

Many Re­pub­lic­ans in the House con­tin­ue to in­sist that their mis­trust of the pres­id­ent makes passing com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form im­possible, while the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to in­sist Con­gress should take the lead. The truth is, however, that both the pres­id­ent and Con­gress have a role to play in end­ing the pain and un­cer­tainty these fam­il­ies face.

When presen­ted with the cata­stroph­ic fail­ures of the VA sys­tem and the dis­grace­ful way some of our vet­er­ans were be­ing treated, both sides of the aisle came to­geth­er and ac­ted with com­mend­able ur­gency. Yet our polit­ic­al lead­ers have not man­aged sim­il­ar ac­tion to fix our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem, even when faced with Amer­ic­an chil­dren who won­der every day wheth­er their par­ents will re­turn home after work.

In March the pres­id­ent dir­ec­ted the Sec­ret­ary of Home­land Se­cur­ity to find ways to make the en­force­ment of im­mig­ra­tion law “more hu­mane.” In late May, the pres­id­ent ap­par­ently changed his mind and delayed the de­port­a­tion re­view. The res­ult will be dev­ast­at­ing, not only for the al­most 25,000 par­ents who will be heart­lessly ripped from their chil­dren over the course of the sum­mer ac­cord­ing to one con­gres­sion­al of­fice’s es­tim­ates, but for the pres­id­ent’s leg­acy as well.

That crisis is sharpened by the ar­rival of an in­creas­ing num­ber of chil­dren flee­ing vi­ol­ence in Cent­ral Amer­ica, and by the con­cerns raised by the ACLU and oth­er groups about the ab­us­ive treat­ment and in­hu­mane con­di­tions too many of these chil­dren ex­per­i­ence when they reach the U.S. and are placed in Bor­der Patrol cus­tody. That’s not just a tragedy. It’s a hu­man­it­ari­an crisis.

Pres­id­ent Obama should hon­or his com­mit­ment to root out the in­hu­man­ity in our im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment re­gime. He doesn’t need to wait on Con­gress, nor should he. Every day the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity (DHS) ar­rests, de­tains, and de­ports people in vi­ol­a­tion of their con­sti­tu­tion­al and hu­man rights. Such things can­not be ig­nored for the sake of polit­ics.

Rather than let­ting these ab­uses go on an­oth­er day, DHS should im­me­di­ately in­sti­tute the fol­low­ing five re­forms, which are well with­in the ex­ec­ut­ive’s leg­al au­thor­ity:

First, DHS needs to re­con­sider which im­mig­rants it tar­gets for re­mov­al. Its over­broad en­force­ment pri­or­it­ies have cre­ated a drag­net across the na­tion that harms com­munit­ies and cal­lously tears apart Amer­ic­an chil­dren from their par­ents.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion should let loc­al law en­force­ment of­fi­cials fo­cus on keep­ing our com­munit­ies safe, and stop mak­ing them part of the de­port­a­tion ma­chine. DHS should end the failed 287(g) and Se­cure Com­munit­ies pro­grams, and their ab­use of ICE de­tain­ers, which pro­mote ra­cial pro­fil­ing, un­der­mine com­munity co­oper­a­tion with loc­al po­lice, and fa­cil­it­ate un­law­ful de­ten­tion in vi­ol­a­tion of the Fourth Amend­ment.

DHS also needs to re­store due pro­cess (and san­ity) to the en­force­ment sys­tem. To start, the agency can pre­vent the un­con­sti­tu­tion­al and costly de­ten­tion of im­mig­rants by re­quir­ing a cus­tody hear­ing be­fore an im­mig­ra­tion judge for every­one de­tained more than six months—as is already re­quired in some re­gions. DHS should stop de­port­ing in­di­vidu­als who nev­er have the op­por­tun­ity to see an im­mig­ra­tion judge—a cat­egory that con­sti­tuted over 70 per­cent of all re­movals in fisc­al year 2013. And at min­im­um, DHS should provide court hear­ings for people who have strong U.S. ties or po­ten­tial claims for leg­al status un­der cur­rent law.

Fur­ther, it’s time we re­cog­nize that cross­ing a bor­der to re­turn to your loved ones is not the act of a dan­ger­ous crim­in­al. DHS should stop re­fer­ring il­leg­al entry and re-entry cases for fed­er­al crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion. These im­mig­ra­tion cases have flooded the fed­er­al courts and pris­ons, yet fail to ad­vance na­tion­al se­cur­ity in any way.

Fi­nally, DHS should end Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion’s role as an in­teri­or law en­force­ment agency by lim­it­ing its op­er­a­tions to no more than 25 miles from a bor­der, rather than the 100 miles cur­rently per­mit­ted. Two-thirds of the Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion lives in this vast zone which is now patrolledby drones, pock­marked by check­points and rov­ing patrols. In the broad re­gion Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­ficers and equip­ment now patrol, re­ports of ab­use, ex­cess­ive use of force and ra­cial pro­fil­ing have be­come dis­turb­ingly com­mon.

Since Janu­ary 2010, at least 27 people have died fol­low­ing en­coun­ters with CBP of­fi­cials in which force was used. That num­ber in­cludes sev­en minors un­der 21, nine U.S. cit­izens, eight in­di­vidu­als al­leged to be throw­ing rocks, and six in­di­vidu­als killed while on the Mex­ic­an side of the bor­der. We don’t know wheth­er a single of­ficer has been dis­cip­lined in con­nec­tion with these deaths.

These re­forms can all be im­ple­men­ted im­me­di­ately. There are many more that are badly needed, but the ur­gency of this crisis de­mands that we start now. The pres­id­ent doesn’t need to wait for Con­gress to make de­port­a­tions more “hu­mane.” Nor should Con­gress wait to ad­dress the massive hu­man­it­ari­an crisis caused by our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem.

Amer­ic­ans aren’t in­ter­ested in the blame game. They’re in­ter­ested in solu­tions. It’s time for all parties to start of­fer­ing some.

Laura W. Murphy is the Dir­ect­or of the Wash­ing­ton Le­gis­lat­ive Of­fice of the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force and health. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

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