For a year and a half, Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief John Morton has been saying that he wants his agency to target “the worst of the worst” when it comes to immigration enforcement. In recent weeks, we’ve finally begun to see this stance reflected in policy, though there’s still more to be done.
Last week, the agency issued new guidance directing field offices to halt the deportations of a narrow group of immigrants who have “active applications in the system” and are about to become legal residents, according to the New York Times:
“The memo encourages ICE officers and lawyers to use their authority to dismiss those cases, canceling the deportation proceedings, if they determine that the immigrants have no criminal records and stand a strong chance of having their residence applications approved.
“The policy is intended to address a ‘major inefficiency’ that has led to an unnecessary pileup of cases in the immigration courts, Mr. Morton said. The courts have reported at least 17,000 cases that could be eliminated from their docket if ICE dismissed deportations of immigrants, like those married to United States citizens, who were very likely to win legal status, the memo says.”
The rationale here is good law enforcement policy, but it also happens to jive with common sense. Surely everyone in America would think it’s smarter to spend ICE resources going after dangerous criminals than immigrants who have applied for residency under the current system and are about to be granted a green card, right?
Well, apparently, not everyone. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is seeing red when it comes to the new memo. Despite his reputation as a budget hawk, he’s bound and determined to oppose every change in immigration policy the Obama Administration makes, even one that would make efficient use of taxpayer resources.
Here’s what Grassley told the Times:
“Actions like this demoralize ICE agents who are trying to do their job and enforce the law. Unfortunately, it appears this is more evidence that the Obama administration would rather circumvent Congress and give a free pass to illegal immigrants who have already broken our law.”
It’s important to understand that this memo covers only a small fraction of immigrants in the U.S. illegally — the 17,000 who are in active deportation proceedings and have also applied for immigration status through existing laws, like the family-based immigration system. It won’t give a benefit to anyone who doesn’t qualify for one already; it won’t prevent anyone whose application is denied from being deported in the future; and it won’t end deportation proceedings for the majority of people who are in them.
The policy change simply says that we’re not going to tie up deportation resources going after someone who’s about to become a legal, taxpaying resident —something that most Americans would agree makes good sense.
Most, that is, except Senator Grassley and his crew. Grassley also doesn’t agree with the vast majority of Americans who support congressional passage of comprehensive immigration reform that requires undocumented immigrants to register with the government, undergo background checks, and get in line for legal status. Americans don’t call that “amnesty,” they call it “accountability.” And they like it.
What they don’t like are leaders who pretend we can deport our way to an immigration solution, or whose strategy on immigration is to block progress at every turn and label every change pursued by the Administration as “amnesty.”