The Obama immigration raids that were first reported by The Washington Post last week have now begun. Although it is not unexpected given Obama's track record as Deporter-in-Chief, the development is still disconcerting and disturbing. Most of these are families, including women and children from Central America (not Mexico), arrived on our southwestern border with Mexico and have claimed asylum protection. The surge along our southwestern border is caused by gang violence and drug trafficking violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Obama justifies the current roundups and deportations saying that these people have either a) been denied asylum in an administrative hearing before an Immigration Judge (IJ) or b) never appeared for their hearing and were ordered removed in absentia.
As Dara Lind of Vox observes, while the deportation of the first group is keeping with Obama's prosecutorial discretion priorities, conducting raids in neighborhoods is far more aggressive a tactic that he has ever used. Obama has previously relied on partnerships with local law enforcement to scoop up undocumented immigrants via programs like Secure Communities. These programs, although controversial, were less invasive than raids. Mass raids were more the modus operandi of George W. Bush and Lind explains why that tactic was so reviled among the targets :
With regard to being denied asylum protection in a hearing before an immigration judge, not surprisingly, multiple studies show that there is strong correlation between one's ability to win asylum and whether one has legal counsel and the vast majority are not counseled. The reason is the persistent legal fiction that deportation/removal and all purely immigration matters are administrative and not criminal in nature and therefore, wait for it, not punishment. In practical terms, it means that immigrants in deportation proceedings do not have the right to counsel at public expense as criminal defendants (of any immigration status charged of committing a crime).
What is dismaying about Obama's move is that it is incomprehensible. For the record, immigration scholars and advocates including myself believe that many of these people either were wrongfully denied asylum protection by the IJ or did not receive enough information about and do not understand that they had to show up for a hearing. So from a legal standpoint, I believe many who are now being rounded up are being deported back to conditions where they may face violence or death because of an error made by an IJ.
From a political standpoint, it is mystifying to me why Obama would not use his lame duck status to simply not deport people and maybe ease human suffering. It has been suggested by political analysts that he may be trying to look tough on immigration by ramping up his deportation numbers so that he can get movement on other parts of his immigration reform agenda. Specifically, it has recently been suggested that the ongoing raids/roundups are designed to play to the Supreme Court which is poised to hear a case that will decide the authority of Obama's executive action. Trying to out-Republican the GOP on immigration by deporting more people than George W. Bush has not helped Obama one wit in getting any of his immigration agenda through. One has to wonder what he is thinking in trying to appeal to the Third Branch, a branch that ostensibly prides itself on insulation from the elected branches. Thanks a lot, Obama. With friends like these, who needs Donald Trump and the GOP?