Upon hearing that President Barack Obama will be giving a keynote address on immigration at the border, one may wonder why any sane politician would combine two such highly charged political hot potatoes in a single speech.
Yet if anyone can speak to the facts surrounding both the border and immigration in a measured and tempered way, it would be the president.
The president is giving his speech on the border so it is highly likely that he will touch on some of the steps his administration has taken to make the region safer. It is also a safe bet that there will be some discussion of enforcement of current immigration laws and how the system as a whole must be fixed.
Some of this is reflexive, as the Republican party has continually accused the Obama administration and congressional Democrats as a whole of being weak on enforcement and border security.
I have argued against the idea that Democrats are weak on enforcement before; however, given the president's upcoming speech, it is important to contextualize why addressing the issues of enforcement and border security is important from both a rhetorical and process standpoint in overhauling our current immigration system.
There is broad consensus that enforcement of current immigration laws and making the border region safer is in the best interest of the country and creates a path forward for broader overhauls.
What has been lost in the debate is why:
Since 2005 the current immigration debate has always been framed as a three legged stool: enforcement, future flow, dealing with the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently here. There is no sequential order in accomplishing these tasks; in fact, the best way to accomplish these goals would be in tandem. Much like a stool, if you only utilize two of these legs, then the structure of the endeavor is compromised and the entire enterprise fails.
The fact that there is a lack of consensus that the president enforces immigration laws is a curious development. Recently, immigration activists have become increasingly frustrated with what they see as an enforcement agenda and conservative pundits and politicians have continued to claim that there has been not enough enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.
In a way, immigration advocates (which I consider myself) are right, since the last major immigration legislation passed in 1996 (by a Democratic president and a Republican Congress) was almost entirely enforcement- and security-based.
Republicans may have a point as well, but for the wrong reason. This administration has put unprecedented amounts of resources towards the border and enforcement. Showing real results, crime on the border is down; in Texas, where the president is giving his speech, from 2008 to 2009 violent crime is down 1.6%, murder is down 3.1% and aggravated assault has dropped by 3.1%. According to the 2010 City Crime Rankings, the City of El Paso, which neighbors Ciudad Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, has been rated the safest large city in America. What is more, according to the same report, the two largest border cities, El Paso and San Diego, are among the five safest in the nation.
Interior enforcement is also at an all-time high. The administration is currently deporting record levels of criminal immigrants at nearly four thousand every two years. There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. At the highest rates of deportation in the history of the country, at this maximum capacity rate, DHS will never be able to deport enough criminal aliens to meet the expectations of the GOP. The real problem here is that enforcement alone is quite simply not the solution.
Senior level officials at the Department of Homeland Security, starting with Janet Napolitano on down, have continued to note that they will continue to enforce the laws as they are written, but a real solution must come from Congress because enforcement alone is not the solution.
Going back to that three-legged stool on immigration, Democrats with the help of their Republican friends, along with the current administration, have done a lot on enforcement and border security. The problem is not that the country needs more enforcement or less, it is that at the very least we should be having conversations about dealing with future flow and the 11 million currently here.
With the president's speech tomorrow, let's hope we can put all of this narrow-minded talk on border security enforcement in perspective and broaden the conversation to ways in which we can truly fix our broken immigration system.