05/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Criminal Flaw in Obama's Immigration Vision


On Sunday, March 21, tens of thousands of immigrant rights supporters will march on Washington, demanding a fix to the broken immigration system. It'll come just days after Senators Schumer and Graham outlined their immigration proposal, a plan Obama said "should be the basis for moving forward." Participants in the "March For America" are hopeful real change will come from bipartisan immigration reform that President Obama and the Democrats vow to draft by Easter.

But there are deep flaws in the immigration reform proposals embraced by President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Obama's reform ideas will not slow the rapid rise in numbers of immigrant families torn apart by deportation seen in the Administration's first year.

The Schumer/Graham proposal will make it possible for some immigrant workers to gain documented status, but in return it could shove a record number of people into the deportation pipeline through the criminal justice system. In Obama's first year in office, deportations reached an all time high, averaging well over 1,000 each day. That number furthers an upward trend that began in the Bush era and will continue to climb if Obama's strategy is not revised.

In fact, if this trend line that Bush's enforcement structure set in motion continues, we're on pace to be deporting around half a million people a year by 2013.

The Obama administration's reform goal is to achieve what Bush only purported to do: Focus enforcement on dangerous criminals and terrorists. "As an investigative agency, ICE prioritizes our immigration enforcement efforts to target those who threaten the security of the American people," says Obama's ICE chief, John Morton. The political trade off seems clear: A tough-enforcement perspective can give Democrats the space to create paths to citizenship.

The problem is that tough "enforcement" has never really been about deporting dangerous criminals or securing the border against terrorists. It's really meant tearing apart thousands of families a year as a result of minor and often decades-old interactions with the cops.

Read my full essay at ColorLines.

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