With Friends Like These...Rahm Emanuel's Advice to then President Clinton on Immigration

It's apparently been 12 years since the Clinton White House and some of the presidential documents are now being unsealed.  (h/t Corey Robin) This memo was in that trove, an internal memo by Rahm Emanuel, then Clinton's adviser now Mayor of Chicago, advising Clinton on immigration and other issues.  (The immigration discussion begins on the bottom of page 3 of the memo.) The tone is the cut and dried matter-of -factness of any policy memo, and Machiavellian.  The overall advice is to be like Nixon(!), be tough on crime, a perennial weakness of Democratic candidates, by coopting some GOP language and strategies.

Some historical context:  by the time President Clinton read this memo, the Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) had passed and so had the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).  AEDPA was passed on the one year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and it is worth reminding everyone that terror attack was carried out by a home grown terrorist.  But both AEDPA and IIRIRA had profound immigration consequences.  It worked to eliminate waivers to deportation (usually granted based on close ties to U.S. citizen and Lawful Permanent Resident Family members) ,and strip federal court review for immigrants convicted of serious crimes.  (Side note:  anyone who read my book knows why federal court review is often the last line of defense against administrative errors.) It also created mandatory detention for all, including persons seeking political asylum. 

The laws also greatly expanded the kinds of crimes considered "serious", which depended on state law definitions of crime, which of course vary across states.  In short, AEDPA and IIRIRA made it much easier for the government to deport people. Immigrant advocates decried the legislation as unnecessarily punitive.  The list of horribles is enumerated here.  No immigration attorney or anyone who cares about due process likes these two bills.  Thousands of mix status families (some immigrant, some U.S. citizen in the same family) have been torn apart due to these laws.

Now, reading Emanuel's Nov. 1996 memo to Clinton, we know that Emanuel didn't think they went far enough with AEDPA and IIRIRA. 1)  He counsels Clinton to expand a hearing program that will result in "record deportation of criminal aliens".  2) Taking a page out of the McCarthy Era described in Patrick Weil's book, he advises that Clinton should call a one month moratorium on naturalizations to review cases for "criminal misconduct" so Clinton can look tough on crime. 3)  He advises that Clinton force the INS to expand an employment verification procedure so that Clinton can claim certain industries are now "free of illegal immigration", even though that procedure is flawed.  4) He counsels what every other Democratic and Republican president does, which is to announce periodically resources to be thrown at the southwestern border, whether it is efficacious  or not, but for the sake of political theater.  5)  He suggests enlisting the Coast Guard to help police immigration which "avoids the charge of militarizing the border."

Notably, all Emanuel's suggestions are about enforcement on immigrants instead of providing relief of any kind.  Moreover, his advice does not include cracking down on U.S. employers who hire immigrants and therefore also break immigration law, by deploying more resources to interior and worksite enforcement and strengthening sanctions and financial penalties against those who hire the undocumented.  Without turning off the magnet attracting undocumented immigration, Emanuel's suggestions just further hurt immigrant families while letting exploitative U.S. employers off the hook

It's reasonable to assume that Emanuel passed along his electoral policy suggestions to Obama as well, but Obama's huge deportation rates are now coming back to bite him and his party with Latino constituents.  And the worst thing is Clinton and Obama seemed to have followed Emanuel's suggestion to deport "a record number" of people, but they have not targeted criminal aliens and instead bagged many persons who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and who were indeed in violation of immigration laws and minor crimes, but were not hardened criminals.

Dude,  with "liberal" presidents "friends" like Bill Clinton and Rahm Emanuel who are trying to out-law-and-order the GOP, who needs enemies?