Conservatives Distort The Record On Immigration Policy


Conservatives like to accuse President Obama of ignoring immigration laws and failing to present a plan for fixing the immigration system. In fact, the president has a “Blueprint for Immigration Reform” on the White House website and has taken a series of concrete steps on immigration both through executive powers and requests of Congress. There are more Border Patrol agents than at any time in history, and illegal immigration has slumped to the lowest levels in many years (for a variety of reasons). The administration has sought to prioritize criminal aliens over those undocumented immigrants who pose no security threat, while successfully suing to block Arizona’s far-reaching immigration crackdown. And after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010, the administration used executive action to aid hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who would have been eligible for legal status had that bill passed.

Conservatives Claim President Obama Refuses To Enforce Immigration Laws And Does Not Have A Plan For Reform

House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith: Obama Has “Ignored Our Immigration Laws” And “Encouraged More Illegal Immigration.” According to the Huffington Post: “‘Throughout the past three years, President Obama and his administration have ignored our immigration laws and have encouraged more illegal immigration by their actions,’ said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). ‘President Obama has abused his executive branch authority to allow potentially millions of illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S.’” [Huffington Post, 6/26/12]

Kobach: Obama “Isn’t Serious About Enforcing Our Immigration Laws.” According to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a co-author of Arizona’s immigration crackdown: “Of course, the president long ago showed that he isn’t serious about enforcing our immigration laws. On taking office, he virtually ended work-site enforcement. That and other actions prompted ICE agents to take an unprecedented vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Obama appointee running the agency. Then, in 2010 and 2011, Obama had his Justice Department sue states (like Arizona) that were trying to help the federal government enforce the law.” [Kobach op-ed, New York Post, 6/21/12]

FAIR President: Obama “Shredding The Constitution” With “Backdoor Amnesty Strategy.” According to a statement by Federation for American Immigration Reform president Dan Stein: “Since taking office the President has slowly stripped away the federal government’s immigration enforcement authority and barred the states from effectively protecting Americans from the burden of illegal immigration. … The consequence of these actions, and the Administration’s latest expansion of its backdoor amnesty strategy, is the shredding of the Constitution, a wholesale rejection of the rule of law, and an open invitation for more illegal immigration.” [, 6/15/12]

Speaker Boehner: “Where Is The President’s Plan?” According to The Hill: “‘If we’re serious about dealing with the immigration problem, the first thing we ought to ask is ‘where’s the president’s plan?’ There is no plan,’ Boehner said.” [The Hill, 6/19/12]

  • Mother Jones: Obama’s Plan Is “Available To Anyone With Access To A Web Browser.” According to Mother Jones: “The White House’s position…is available to anyone with access to a web browser and the ability to use Google. The Obama administration pushed for the DREAM Act in 2010 only to see it filibustered to death by Senate Republicans and a few Democrats. The White House’s Blueprint for Immigration Reform states that the president favors a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants in the US provided they ‘register and undergo national security and criminal background checks.’ They will also have to ‘pay their taxes, pay a fine, and fully integrate into the United States by learning English.’ Obama also supported the immigration reform plan put forth by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that Graham subsquently abandoned.” [Mother Jones, 7/22/12]

House GOP Voted To Reverse “Nearly Every Action By The Obama Administration To Reform The Immigration Enforcement System.” According to the Huffington Post: “The House voted on Thursday to kill nearly every action by the Obama administration to reform the immigration enforcement system, approving amendments that would separate U.S. citizens from their undocumented spouses and end prioritization of deporting dangerous unauthorized immigrants. ‘The administration is now saying, ‘I don’t like the laws, I won’t enforce them,’’ Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said in support of an amendment proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).” [Huffington Post, 6/8/12, emphasis added]

President Obama Enhanced Border Security While Allowing Immigration Officials Flexibility To Focus On Criminal Immigrants

President Obama Sent 1,200 National Guard Troops To Augment Border Patrol In 2010. From the Arizona Republic: “For months, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Arizona and around the country has been pleading with President Barack Obama to deploy National Guard troops to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico. On Tuesday, with the national conversation about border and immigration at a fever pitch because of Arizona’s tough new immigration law, Obama announced that he is sending up to 1,200 troops to the border. Details have not been released on when they will arrive, where they will be stationed or how long they will stay. But their primary mission will be to assist with the battle against drug smugglers, working primarily on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance until more Border Patrol agents can be hired and trained.” [Arizona Republic, 5/26/10]

Spring 2011: Border Patrol Agents Has Increased By 18 Percent Over Fall 2008. From PolitiFact: “There were 20,745 border patrol agents as of April 9, 2011; 17,659 of them stationed along the southwest border with Mexico, according to data provided by Steven Cribby, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. That’s up from 17,499 border patrol agents at the end of September 2008, four months before Obama took office (an 18 percent increase). Singling out just the border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border, the number has increased from 15,422 to 17,659 (a 14 percent increase).” [, 5/10/11]

Average Annual Deportations Higher Under Obama Than Bush As Illegal Immigration Hit 10-Year Low. From ABC News: “Since 2009, the annual average number of deportations has approached 400,000, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s double the annual average during President George W. Bush’s first term and 30 percent higher than the average when he left office. Meanwhile, the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States has hit a decade low because of the down economy and stepped-up enforcement efforts.” [ABC News, 12/28/11]

June 2011: ICE Chief Directs Agency To Exercise “Prosecutorial Discretion” In Deportation Cases In Order To Focus Resources On Dangerous Individuals. From the Houston Chronicle: “Top immigration officials have directed all agents and attorneys to consider exercising prosecutorial discretion in new and pending immigration cases, potentially sparing untold numbers of illegal immigrants from deportation. A memo issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton on Friday instructs all officers, agents and government attorneys to consider a wide range of factors before charging people with being in the country illegally or pushing ahead with their deportation cases. Immigrant advocates said they were encouraged by a change in guidelines, which instruct ICE officials to consider everything from a suspected illegal immigrant’s community contributions to criminal history before making a determination on a case. Special consideration should be given to witnesses and victims of crimes, relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders, military veterans and college students brought to the U.S. as children, according to the guidelines. ‘This is an example of smart enforcement of the immigration laws,’ said Eleanor Pelta, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which represents 11,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. ‘It really encourages ICE agents to use their limited resources to pursue dangerous people who would do us harm, rather than harmless, innocent people, rather than people who are just going about their business.’” [Houston Chronicle, 6/20/11, emphasis added]

  • Prosecutorial Discretion Inherent To Law Enforcement. From the Immigration Policy Center: “Prosecutorial discretion exists whenever a government official is empowered to decide whether to pursue charges against someone. Consequently, prosecutorial discretion is inherent in our system of laws, regardless of the substantive issue. In the immigration context, research conducted by Shoba Sivraprasad Wadhia shows that immigration agencies and officials have a long and rich history of using prosecutorial discretion to resolve cases involving significant equities, policy calls, or practical resource issues.  In 2000, then-INS Commissioner Doris Meissner issued guidance clearly articulating the role of prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement. That guidance remains in operation and has served as the touchstone for a series of other DHS memos on exercising discretion.  The Morton Memo on prosecutorial discretion is the most recent of at least thirteen such memos.” [, 9/9/11]

August 2011: Obama Administration Announced Case-By-Case Review Of Pending Deportations Involving Non-Criminal Immigrants. From ABC News: “The Obama administration today announced it will no longer actively seek to deport illegal immigrants who don’t have criminal records and that it will review all existing deportation cases involving non-criminal immigrants on a case-by-case basis. The news follows months of intense pressure from immigrant advocates who had urged the president to use his administrative authority to refocus the government’s limited law enforcement resources while congressional gridlock over a comprehensive immigration system overhaul persists. The administration has already prioritized the removal of criminal aliens, but today officials took that policy one step further with the promise to review more than 300,000 pending deportations on a case-by-case basis and stay those involving individuals not convicted of crimes.” [ABC News, 8/18/11]

Pew Study: “The Net Migration Flow From Mexico To The United States Has Stopped And May Have Reversed.” From the Wall Street Journal: “Net migration from Mexico has plummeted to zero thanks to changing demographic and economic conditions on both sides of the border, a new study says, even as political battles over illegal immigration heat up and the issue heads to the U.S. Supreme Court. After four decades that brought 12 million Mexican immigrants—more than half of them illegally—to the U.S., the curtain has come down on the biggest immigration wave in modern times. ‘The net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed,’ says the report, which is based on an analysis of U.S. and Mexican government data by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center. The standstill, according to the report, results from declining immigration from Mexico paired with a rising number of people returning south from the U.S. Those trends recently converged, and between 2005 and 2010 about as many Mexicans left the U.S. as flocked here.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/23/12]

President Obama Took Executive Action To Help Young Immigrants After DREAM Act Blocked In Senate

President Obama Wanted Congress To Pass DREAM Act In 2010, But Senate Filibustered. From Talking Points Memo: “By a vote of 55 to 41, a cloture vote on the DREAM Act failed in the Senate this morning. That brings an end to the push for the legislation — which would provide a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants who serve in the military or earn college degrees — until the 112th Congress, which will convene Jan. 5. […] Obama had put passage of DREAM on his legislative agenda this year. The House did as he asked, passing its version of DREAM earlier this month. As has so often been the case in the past two years, however, the Senate will be the place another Obama agenda item went to die.” [Talking Points Memo, 12/18/10]

June 2012: Obama Administration Announced Administrative Relief For Young Undocumented Immigrants Who Would Have Been Eligible For Legal Status Under DREAM Act. From the Brookings Institution: “Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced big news: Effective immediately, eligible undocumented youth are granted deferred action from deportation (a form of administrative relief). This important and sensible step by the Obama administration provides immigrants under the age of 30 who have been in the United States for at least five years and are currently enrolled or have graduated from high school or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military and do not have a felony or misdemeanor the right to live and work in the United States.  This change in policy is similar to the proposed Dream Act that would have offered legal status and a path to citizenship for the same population that was blocked by Congress in 2010.” [, 6/18/12, emphasis added]

  • Between 800,000 And 1.4 Million Young People Affected. From Businessweek: “Homeland Security says about 800,000 people could come under a new set of rules that bypasses Congress and puts in place some of the goals of the ‘DREAM Act,’ long-stalled legislation designed to give a pathway to citizenship for some younger undocumented immigrants. Some non-government organizations that track immigration trends say the number who could benefit is larger because a pipeline of young people will become eligible later. The nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center in Washington estimates the number rises to 1.4 million if those younger than high-school age are included.” [Businessweek, 6/22/12]

Obama Administration Sued To Block Arizona’s SB 1070

Arizona Passed “SB 1070,” Mandating That Police Inquire About And Residents Carry Proof Of Their Immigration Status. From the Los Angeles Times: “Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday approved what foes and supporters agree is the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants, directing local police to determine whether people are in the country legally. […] But police were deeply divided on the matter, with police unions backing it but the state police chief’s association opposing the bill, contending it could erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses. Immigrant rights groups were horrified, and contended that Arizona would be transformed into a police state. ‘It’s beyond the pale,’ said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. ‘It appears to mandate racial profiling.’ The bill, known as SB 1070, makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona. It also requires police officers, if they form a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person’s immigration status.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/13/10]

Obama Administration Sued To Block Arizona Law. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The Obama administration launched its long-expected legal attack on Arizona’s strict new immigration law Tuesday, arguing that only Washington can set the nation’s rules for arresting illegal immigrants. The government said Tuesday that its immigration enforcement policy ‘targets … dangerous aliens,’ including violent criminals, gang members, drug traffickers and others ‘who pose a danger to the national security and a risk to public safety,’ whereas the Arizona law would force federal officials to cope with a flood of illegal immigrants who pose no danger. Entirely innocent Arizonans will suffer as well, the administration said. It foresaw ‘countless inspections and detentions’ of people who do not have the correct papers. But U.S. officials did not contend that the state law violates federal civil rights laws or the equal-protection guarantee in the Constitution.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/6/10]

Supreme Court Struck Down Three Provisions Of Arizona Law At Culmination Of Administration’s Law Suit. From the New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a split decision on Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law, upholding its most hotly debated provision but blocking others on the grounds that they interfered with the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. The court unanimously sustained the law’s centerpiece, the one critics have called its “show me your papers” provision, though they left the door open to further challenges. The provision requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they have reason to suspect that the individual might be in the country illegally.

The justices parted ways on three other provisions, with the majority rejecting measures that would have subjected illegal immigrants to criminal penalties for activities like seeking work. […]

The Obama administration argued that federal immigration law trumped — or pre-empted, in legal jargon — the state’s efforts. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, blocked the four provisions on those grounds, including the one the Supreme Court upheld.

In its challenge, the administration did not argue that it violated equal-protection principles. At the Supreme Court argument in April, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. acknowledged that the federal case was not based on racial or ethnic profiling.

In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that the ruling did not foreclose other “constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.” [New York Times, 6/25/12]