In Immigration Debate, Enforcement Under Fire

The coming push for immigration reform is likely to center on how we close the border

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Immigration, an issue placed on the back-burner during the economic and health care debates, is set to dominate the national stage once those two issues recede. Democrats anticipate pushing serious immigration reform in 2010, when preliminary hearings are scheduled. The White House is already seeking to overturn notoriously harsh immigration detention policies, which liberals say are abused as an aggressive tactic to push out immigrants. Economic slumps have historically increased anti-immigrant sentiment, but Obama has made reform a priority since his campaign. Sheriff Joe Arpaio could become a catalyst to launch the national debate over immigration: the controversy-courting sheriff from Arizona, a hero to conservatives and villain to liberals for his toughness on immigration, has been stripped of some of his powers. If immigration debate re-ignited today, here's what would be discussed.

  • Immigration Enforcement Run Amok  Aarti Kohli and Antonia Hernandez, in the San Francisco Chronicle, lambast Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has empowered some local police forces to act as immigration officials. "ICE announced that all inmates in the city's jails would have their immigration status checked," they write. "These enforcement programs result in rampant racial profiling by local police. No surprise. Police know that if they increase the pool of Hispanics sent to jails with immigration checks, then a greater number of people will be deported by federal authorities [...] Just 2 percent of those detained by immigration authorities over a 14-month period were charged with felonies." They conclude, "Ever since 9/11 and the launching of the 'War on Terror,' we've been asked to accept racial profiling as a trade-off for increased safety. We need to reject this Faustian bargain. Our history is replete with instances showing that, when we violate the civil rights of an ethnic group, we weaken our democracy, security and community."
  • GOP's Disastrous Latino Problem  Washington Post's Michael Gerson warns fellow Republicans that the immigration debate "may be an invitation to political suicide" if the party doesn't change soon. "Many Republicans who oppose his pro-immigration views are not divisive or inflammatory. But other, angry voices crowd them out. As a result, Republican support among Latinos is collapsing," he writes. "And it is disturbing in any case to set the goal of a whiter Republican Party. This approach would not only shrink the party, it would split it. Catholics and evangelicals, who have been central to the Republican coalition, cannot ultimately accept a message of resentment against foreigners. Their faith will not allow it. In considering illegal immigration, many talk appropriately about the rule of law. But there is also the imago dei -- the shared image of God -- that does not permit individual worth and dignity to be sorted by national origin."
  • Too-Tough Enforcement Harms Women  Huffington Post's Irasema Garza notes that, when all police become immigration cops, it deters illegal immigrants from reporting serious crimes, to everyone's detriment. "The American public is increasingly buying into a flawed premise: immigrants are criminals and local law enforcement must enforce immigration laws. The effects of this rhetorical myth are devastating. Communities all over the United States are sacrificing public safety as law enforcement officers take on the duties of immigration agents, instead of making sure communities are protected against violent crime," Garza writes. "Another immigrant victim of domestic violence stays another day in an abusive relationship, too scared to call the police for fear that she will be deported. A teenage immigrant girl wants to report a sexual assault by her employer but fears that local law enforcement will detain her, rather than prosecute the perpetrator. Some employers even abuse and exploit immigrant women in the workplace, knowing that these programs scare women from taking a stand against such abuse."
  • Don't Shut Out Constructive Immigrants  No less than Erick Erickson, the hardline conservative blogger for Redstate, suggests that immigration over-enforces by keeping out people who would contribute to the economy. Erickson cites an article arguing that our strict immigration policy is bad for American business and innovation. "I'm sure this guy is to the left of me, but he is right on the money when it comes to legal immigration," Erickson writes. "We are shooting ourselves in the foot by closing the border to smart people who want to work, live, and play in this country."
  • Economic Case for Looser Immigration  The Brookings Institute proposes business-promoting reforms. "We must reorient the nation’s immigrant admissions criteria to better serve Americans and our economic goals. Family unification should remain a bedrock principle of U.S. immigration policy, but we believe that 'family' must be narrowed to mean nuclear family members. We must also recognize that in today’s increasingly competitive and technology-intensive global economy, educated workers with the knowledge and skills to innovate are critical. Therefore, we recommend increasing skilled visas and replacing per-country limits on skilled visas with a single overall limit. At the same time, we recommend holding constant, at least for the present, the overall number of permanent legal residents admitted annually."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.