Obama’s Immigration Enforcement a Carbon Copy of Bush’s

A year and a half into his presidency, Obama has reached a new low on immigration enforcement. Or rather, a new high.

By Michelle Chen Jul 19, 2010

A year and a half into his presidency, Obama has reached a new low on immigration enforcement. Or rather, a new high. The most recent data released by Homeland Security shows that immigration-related prosecutions initiated by ICE and the Border Patrol have reached levels comparable to those seen under the Bush administration. An analysis from Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University casts shadows on Obama’s recent overtures on immigration reform.

According to TRAC:

The government reported that during April 2010 there were 7,822 new prosecutions referred by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), following 7,090 prosecutions in March. The total of 14,912 is the highest two-month total since September and October of 2008, when the combined figure was 16,127.

In addition, there were 2,119 new criminal prosecutions referred by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in April 2010, following a March figure of 2,026. The combined two-month total of 4,145 is the highest recorded since the creation of the agency in 2005. This surpasses previous highs of 3,777 in July and August of 2008 and 3,787 in July and August of 2009.

Overall, the number of prosecutions topped 10,000, bringing overall levels of criminal immigration enforcement to Bush administration levels. (Note that "criminal" here refers to a broad array of violations, including many nonviolent, relatively minor offenses.) The bar graph depicting prosecutions over time shows a through-line from the waning days of the Bush regime into the Obama administration. Border Patrol prosecutions in particular have soared since the middle of Bush’s second term, and the pattern has carried over well into Obama’s first.

From February to April 2010, border patrol prosecution referrals from the Southwest Border jumped 45 percent. It was in April, too, that Obama, pressured by an increasingly frustrated immigrant rights movement, began criticizing SB 1070 as "misguided."

Now it looks like Arizona was just trying to lend Obama a helping hand. The state accounts for nearly a third of border patrol prosecution referrals, topping every other Southwestern district, according to TRAC.

The analysis also suggests that ICE, the agency that brought you Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s 287(g), has not eased its targeting of communities and workplaces, with prosecution referrals up 42 percent. Arizona again ranks number two on that measure, but an even larger increase was seen in enforcement actions in other districts outside the Southwest border.

As for the ultimate fate of the immigrants facing prosecution, the 388,000 deportations in 2009, overlapping with Obama’s first year in office, may cement this President’s place in history as the most eager to kick people out of the country, often with scant respect for basic civil rights or family bonds.

Within Homeland Security, officials seem to be fumbling with contradictory words and deeds. Even compared to his predecessors, Obama’s legacy on immigration reform looks pretty anemic.

The problem goes beyond political integrity. With SB 1070 poised to go into effect, Arizona’s already steroidal crackdown on undocumented immigrants (or anyone who looks and sounds like one) may soon go into overdrive. Yet Arizona is just amping up an old tune. Long before SB 1070, immigration enforcement involved collusion between federal and local authorities. Keep that in mind as the Justice Department plays good cop in the pending lawsuit against the legislation.

Whatever lukewarm promises come out of the White House about immigration reform and upholding civil rights, activists should weigh those words against numbers that tell a starkly different story.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama listens during a meeting with members of Congress for a roundtable discussion about immigration reform, June 25, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)