Wall Street Journal (Editorial)
February 22, 2017
President Trump campaigned on enforcing immigration law, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly plans to deliver. On Tuesday Mr. Kelly ordered a deportation surge that will cost billions of dollars and expand the size and intrusiveness of government in ways that should make conservatives wince.
In a pair of memos the Secretary fleshes out the Administration’s immigration priorities to protect public safety. By all means deport gangbangers and miscreants. But Mr. Kelly’s order is so sweeping that it could capture law-abiding immigrants whose only crime is using false documents to work. This policy may respond to the politics of the moment, but chasing down maids and meatpackers will not go down as America’s finest hour.
Under Mr. Kelly’s guidelines, any undocumented immigrant who has committed even a misdemeanor could be “subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.” So a restaurant worker with an expired visa or driver without a license who is caught rolling a stop sign could be an expulsion target.
One question is whether all this effort is needed. More than 90% of the 65,000 undocumented immigrants removed last year from the U.S. interior were convicted criminals, and about 2,000 were affiliated with gangs. This suggests that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is already targeting and removing as many bad guys as it can locate.
To assist with removals, the memos call for hiring an additional 5,000 border patrol and 10,000 ICE agents, which represent a roughly 25% and 50% increase in their respective workforces. The increase in the agencies’ operating budgets would cost about $4 billion annually.
Mr. Kelly has also ordered a plan to “surge the deployment of immigration judges and asylum officers,” and he’s going to need them. The backlog of cases in the Justice Department’s 58 immigration courts has already swelled to more than 540,000 from 325,000 in 2012. Some 250 immigration judges were assigned 200,000 cases in 2015. The average wait time for a case is 677 days and can hit five years at some locations.
More than 500 judges—who would each require an entourage of translators, paralegals and clerks—would need to be hired to eliminate the backlog within a year. Each full-time position costs about $200,000, so taxpayers could be billed more than a half billion dollars for this surge of government attorneys. Add all this to the cost of Mr. Trump’s border wall, and the bill rises into the tens of billions.
While awaiting a hearing, many nonviolent immigrants are released on parole because detention centers are overburdened and expensive to operate. Housing an immigrant costs the feds $125 per day— Holiday Inn could provide better service for less—so the 31,000 beds in detention centers are generally reserved for convicted criminals and immigrants caught near the border.
Mr. Kelly, however, instructs ICE agents to grant parole sparingly and on a case-by-case basis, and “the burden to establish that his or her release would neither pose a danger to the community, nor a risk of flight remains on the individual alien.” So immigrants whom ICE agents fear might not show up at their hearing could potentially be detained for years while judges work through the backlog.
Procuring additional space in facilities that meet government contracting requirements also won’t be easy. County jails and state prisons are overcrowded, and federal government unions will fight “outsourcing.”
Thus, Mr. Kelly expands the criteria for expedited removal. Under the Obama Administration, any unauthorized immigrant who was detained within 14 days of entry or 100 air miles of the border would get fast-tracked for deportation. From now on, anyone who can’t prove that he’s lived in the U.S. continuously for the past two years could be expelled immediately.
Homeland Security officials were at pains this week to say all of this will be done humanely, with a special focus on criminals, and let’s hope so. Mr. Trump also deserves credit for not repealing President Obama’s order sparing from expulsion some 750,000 “dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. This is an act of genuine compassion, but Mr. Trump will get little political credit because the news is buried in the larger deportation story.
Mr. Trump’s voters want the rule of law enforced, but the exit polls showed that even most of them oppose mass deportation. The U.S. already has a labor shortage in many areas, and if Mr. Trump’s policies spur faster growth that shortage will worsen. Yet he has no policy in place that would let legal immigrants enter the U.S. to serve the needs of a growing economy.
Perhaps if Mr. Trump succeeds in reducing immigrant crime, the anti-immigration mood will ebb. Meantime, conservatives in Congress who care about fiscal probity should ask if Mr. Kelly really needs to make government so much bigger to expel genuine criminals.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com