IN BLOCKING immigration reform in the House of Representatives, Republicans have frozen in place a system that much of the nation, and many in the GOP, regard as an exemplar of American dysfunction. Hence the irony that so many Republicans stand ready to rise up in fury should President Obama deviate from enforcing that system to the letter of the law.
President Obama has ordered what he called a review of deportations, which have risen to record levels under his administration. Yet he appears to be stuck, thanks largely to Republican intransigence and hypocrisy. On the one hand, GOP leaders in the House acknowledge the impossibility of deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom have been here for many years and are woven into the United States’ workforce and communities. On the other hand, they are unwilling to embrace a solution — even the one approved by the Senate with bipartisan support — lest they risk a rupture with the party base.
The result is that a sweeping overhaul of the system, which Mr. Obama pledged as a candidate, is a dead letter for now. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to deport nearly 400,000 people each year. That’s far more than under President George W. Bush, but if the Obama administration’s hope was to prove its resolve on enforcement, the strategy has failed spectacularly. Republicans claim it is precisely because Mr. Obama is squishy on enforcement that they are loath to compromise on a pathway to legality for undocumented immigrants.
Advocates of reform, including Hispanic groups that form a growing portion of Mr. Obama’s base, insist that he intervene to ease deportations. In response to that pressure, the president ordered his policy review. Yet his room for maneuver is scant. Of the 369,000 immigrants who were deported in the fiscal year ending last fall, all but 23,000 either had criminal records or were arrested near the border as they attempted to enter the country illegally. About 13,000 more were repeat immigration offenders or fugitives from immigration courts. Fewer than 11,000 had clean records.
Granted, many deportees with criminal records are convicted of misdemeanors (about 31,000 last year). In plenty of instances, those offenses are pretexts cooked up by local law enforcement to hound unauthorized immigrants — day laborers accused of loitering, for example. Beyond the deportation statistics are uncountable numbers of human tragedies —fathers and mothers with long, solid work records in this country who are uprooted, expelled and separated from their children and families, among whom are many U.S. citizens.
The groups pressing Mr. Obama for a policy shift would have him exempt thousands of such immigrants from deportation — beyond the “Dreamer” youths who have already been granted such protection. It would be a humane and reasonable thing to do. It would also constitute a further act of selective enforcement, buttressing GOP assertions that Mr. Obama cannot be trusted to carry out the law. Republicans’ refusal to reform a broken system has left the nation without good options.