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WaPo: Unauthorized Immigration Across Border at Historic Lows; GOP: Secure the Border First

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Washington Post Exposes the GOP’s “Secure the Border First” Mantra as Fact-Free

new front-page story in the Washington Post by Jerry Markon finds that “illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades.”  It quotes Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection as saying “we have seen tremendous progress…the border is much more secure than in times past.”  The article points out that the number of undocumented immigrants in America has declined in recent years, signifying that more people are leaving than arriving, and that those remaining are older and more settled.  This is powerful evidence that unauthorized migration across the U.S.-Mexico border has sharply declined and that the real issue is what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in America.

So, what is the dominant stance of GOP presidential candidates this year? With the exception of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), all of the candidates repeat the mantra “secure the border first.”  It brings to mind the famous quote from former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

The Post story notes:

“As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades.  The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center…

…The issue of border security is central to the broader debate over immigration reform that has roiled Washington in recent years and is emerging as a flash point in the 2016 presidential campaign.  Congressional Republicans have insisted on greater border security before they consider legalizing any immigrants who came to this country without proper documents.

President Obama says the border has never been more secure and is urging a series of legislative steps to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants, streamline the visa system and further fortify the border.  He has already moved to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation through executive actions. But these actions have faced resistance in the courts, including the decision Tuesday by a federal appeals court to keep one of the president’s signature immigration efforts from moving ahead.

What’s increasingly clear is that the shifting fortunes of the U.S. economy account for less of the ebb and flow of illegal immigration.  Even as the economy bounces back from recession, illegal immigration flows, especially from Mexico, have kept declining, ­according to researchers and government data.  Since the 1990s, the opposite was true: The better the economy, the more people tried to come.

‘Every month or quarter that the economy continues to improve and unauthorized immigration doesn’t pick up supports the theory that border security is a bigger factor, and it’s less about the economy and we have moved into a new era,’ said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration program at the Migration Policy Institute.”

Meanwhile, in the GOP bubble, it’s an article of faith that the border is out of control.  Most GOP presidential candidates hide behind this canard because they don’t want to address the issue of what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who have made America their home.  Doing so might cost some votes from hardline conservative voters.  But this strategy runs the risk of repeating the mistakes of Mitt Romney, whose lurch right in the GOP primaries defined him in the general election. This is because the majority of Americans realize the folly of an enforcement-focused immigration policy and support efforts to move undocumented immigrants toward legal status and citizenship, and immigration reform, in the words of the RNC’s autopsy performed after Romney’s loss, is a “litmus test” for the growing Latino vote.

As America’s Voice outlined in our recent report on 2016 Republicans and immigration, saying the “secure the border first” riff is a coded way to say “comprehensive immigration reform never.” It is at odds with the facts on the ground and ignores the tremendous amount of resources devoted to the border.  It also leaves unanswered the questions of how to measure and who would decide what a secure border looks like?  This is why serious advocates of immigration reform view the “secure the border first” soundbite as circular: we can’t reform immigration until the border is secure, the border is not yet secure because some people still get across, therefore we can’t move forward on immigration reform until the border is secure first.  It gives opponents a policy-sounding argument to continually move the goalposts so that nothing is done for 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in our nation.

As the Wall Street Journal has editorialized: “Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security.  It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”

A clear indication of this can be found today in Congress.  In House Homeland Security legislation approved this year on a partisan basis, the stated goal is to secure border at the level of 100% effectiveness.  Yes, success would mean that no one crosses the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border without authorization, ever.  This is a remarkable goal given that the Berlin Wall, complete with a kill zone, was only 95% secure.  Even former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff called 100% operational control of the border “unrealistic and unnecessary.”  He added, no other law enforcement agency is asked to meet that type of standard – the equivalent would be requiring a city police force to maintain a 0% crime rate.

As Greg Sargent assesses in a separate piece in the Post, after lifting up new Jeb Bush criticism of his GOP rivals for shape-shifting on immigration:

“Of course, among many GOP primary voters, it is a given that President Obama has thrown open the border to the hordes.  One way Bush could really deliver a dose of realism on this issue — or meaningfully show more courage than his rivals — is to acknowledge the real state of border security today.  In light of his comments about Walker and Rubio, he should also be pressed to clarify whether he really thinks some elusive state of absolute border security must be achieved — and if so, how that might be defined — before any legalization scheme can be put in place.  If not, he should forthrightly clarify that he agrees we need a comprehensive solution that does both.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The facts are clear. Unauthorized border crossings are at historic lows. The levels are less than zero, as more people have left than arrived. Meanwhile, the central policy challenge is to deal realistically and humanely with the 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America, a population that is deeply rooted in the country they call home.  And a majority of Americans want to create a path to legal status and citizenship so undocumented immigrants can formally become what they already are in practice: Americans.  Finally, Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters, along with their many allies, see this as a threshold issue. It is against this backdrop that GOP candidates mouthing the focus-group tested soundbite of ‘secure the border first’ comes across as ridiculous. Welcome to the alternate universe of the GOP primary debate.”