Vox’s Dara Lind highlights an alarming divide between the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement priorities and the Border Patrol agents tasked with carrying out those policies on the ground.
While President Obama’s November 2014 expanded DACA and DAPA programs are currently on hold following a judge’s ruling, the Obama Administration’s prosecutorial discretion guidelines — outlining who should be prioritized for deportation and who shouldn’t be — are unaffected.
Border Patrol are sworn to uphold the law and, of course, should be following the policies set by the officials in charge. But as Lind writes, rank-and-file immigration agents on the ground appear to think the court battle gives them an excuse to avoid following those prosecutorial discretion guidelines:
The union representing US Border Patrol agents is on the attack against President Obama for, as they put it, “threatening” agents, claiming that he’s trying to force them to implement his executive actions on immigration even after a federal ruling blocking those actions from going into effect.
That’s not exactly true. A federal judge blocked the administration’s attempt to allow millions of unauthorized immigrants to apply for protection from deportation, but it didn’t keep the government from making decisions about who it should and shouldn’t deport. In fact, in the wake of the court ruling, federal immigration policy depends on what rank-and-file agents do in a way it never has before. Immigration agents have more power than anyone else in determining who gets deported — and, accordingly, have the responsibility to make sure that’s in line with the administration’s policy.
But rank-and-file agents have been fighting the administration for years over attempts from the White House to restrict agents’ ability to deport unauthorized immigrants. Now, they’re using the court battle as an opportunity to challenge the administration.
That raises big questions about who really controls immigration policy — and the power struggle has massive real-world consequences for immigrants who are still struggling under the fear of deportation, despite everything the Obama administration has tried to do to remove that fear.
Lind points out that even the judge’s ruling explicitly notes that his decision doesn’t affect who the government should or shouldn’t prioritize for deportation: “Whether or not (the federal government) may exercise discretion by simply not removing people in individual cases is not before this Court.”
This challenge to authority appears to be a direct challenge to President Obama’s comments at last month’s Telemundo/MSNBC town hall on immigration action, where he reassured undocumented immigrants that border patrol agents not following priority guidelines as outlined by the Obama Administration would face consequences:
“There are going to be some jurisdictions and there may be [an] individual ICE official or Border Control agent not paying attention to our new directives. But they’re going to be answerable to the head of Homeland Security because he’s been very clear about what our priorities will be.”
Blogger and DREAMer Juan Escalante highlighted the conflicting messages on the Huffington Post today, adding:
[It’s] incumbent on the President and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure — indeed guarantee — that their deportation machine is not destroying families, or deporting individuals who may be otherwise deemed as “low priority” for deportation. Even though DACA, DACA+, and DAPA are no substitutes for the immigration reforms we all hoped Congress would pass to fix our broken immigration system, they do offer a degree of normalcy that was heretofore unavailable to many undocumented people.
“There is no room for grey areas in this debate,” adds Escalante. “Either the authorities who fail to follow the immigration enforcement priorities are held accountable by Mr. Obama or they are not. It really is that simple.”