IMMIGRATION, continued     home | history

2001 to 2015

Terror on September 11, 2001 demonstrated that security for the US had been lax. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created an agency called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), formed in the year 2003. ICE is responsible for enforcing the nation's immigration laws and ensuring the departure of removable aliens from the United States. The Department of Homeland Security reports that in the year 2004 89,852 persons were deported.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 signed into law by President George W Bush, directed the Department of Homeland Security to increase the immigration detention capacity by at least 8,000 beds each year from fiscal years 2006 to 2010.

In 2006 the deportations by ICE rose 92,263. That year, in October, President Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act. The Act authorized the construction of hundreds of miles of double-layered fencing along the border with Mexico, and it directed the Department of Homeland Security to take action to stop entry into the country by undocumented immigrants, terrorists, and contraband. President Bush told the nation that "This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform."

In January 2007 the Department of Homeland Security estimated that the number of unauthorized Immigrants in the US had risen to 11.8 million, 59 percent of them from Mexico – up from the 8.4 million estimated for the year 2000. That year, according to the agency there were 102,024 deportations. And the agency announced steps to tighten and expand employment eligibility verification – a program that was to include internet verification called E-Ver.

Then came the financial crisis of 2007-08. There was a decline in employment, and illegals in the US also declined in number – to be described as self-deportations. The number of illegals in 2009 has been estimated at 10,700,000. Also for 2009 (President Obama's first year in office), Homeland Security's deportations remained on the rise, numbering 136,343.

In 2010, a new Arizona law required police to stop, detain and check the status of persons who looked like they might be immigrants. In July, a US District Judge, Susan Bolton, responded to the Obama administration's request for a ruling, and she ruled that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, not the states. In July 2012 the US Supreme Court sided with Bolton's decision. The Supreme Court's 5-3 decision also upheld an Arizona law that penalized businesses for hiring illegals, a law opposed by the Chamber of Commerce. The three justices in the minority were Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

From 2011 to 2012, according to Human Rights Watch, US immigration agents detained and deported more than 100,000 parents of children who were US citizens, and fewer than 10 percent of these parents were allowed a hearing before an immigration judge. In June 2012, President Obama issued an executive order that allowed some who entered the US before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. It was said to give hundreds of thousands the ability to work without fear of deportation. President Obama described those he was helping as "Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper." His executive order was a way of getting around Congress.

In 2012, during their campaigns, Obama and Romney clashed over immigration policy. Obama supported the DREAM Act, a bill that had been introduced in Congress since in August 2001. It was designed to create a path to citizenship for some young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. Romney opposed it. He also wanted more guards to patrol the border and all children in the US to be taught in English. (The Dream Act, reintroduced by Senator Harry Reid in 2011, would never make it to president's desk.)

After Romney lost his race for the presidency he said on CNN that he lost the Hispanic vote because he had not invested "sufficiently – particularly in Hispanic TV and Hispanic outreach – to help Hispanic voters understand that ours is the party of opportunity."

In the summer of 2014 a surge of undocumented woman and children from Central America reached Texas. They were turning themselves over to the Border Patrol in the belief that US immigration law had a special provision for children. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs was told that the children were "hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable." Some of the women and children were transferred to Immigration and Naturalization Service facilities in California. Buses carrying them were blocked by flag-waving protesters, and a similar demonstration occurred in Arizona. The Obama administration acknowledged that immigration reform may have helped encourage the influx of child migrants. Obama met with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, seeking their cooperation in reducing child migration and expediting their return. Regarding US law, on October 21 the New York Times wrote:

Under an anti-trafficking statute adopted with bipartisan support in 2008, minors from Central America cannot be deported immediately and must be given a court hearing before they are deported. A United States policy allows Mexican minors caught crossing the border to be sent back quickly.

According to Office of Refuge Resettlement data, 36 percent of the nearly 54,000 unaccompanied children who came to the US were released to sponsors and placed in homes in Texas, New York, and California.

In November 2014, President Obama announced another executive action, described by Reuters as the "most sweeping immigration reform in a generation." According to Reuters,

With 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, Obama's plan would let some 4.4 million who are parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents remain in the country temporarily, without the threat of deportation.

Those undocumented residents could apply legally for jobs and join American society, but not vote or qualify for insurance under the president's healthcare law. The measure would apply to those who have been in the United States for at last five years.

An additional 270,000 people would be eligible for relief under the expansion of a 2012 move by Obama to stop deporting people brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents.

During the summer of 2015 a Federal District Court judge, Dolly M Gee, rejected the Obama administration's argument for detention of children and their mothers caught crossing the border illegally. She ruled that two detention centers in Texas failed to meet minimum legal requirements of the 1997 settlement for facilities housing children. Judge Gee also found that migrant children had been held in "widespread deplorable conditions" in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught, and she said the authorities had "wholly failed" to provide the "safe and sanitary" conditions required for children even in temporary cells.

As for public opinion regarding immigration, in May 2015 a Pew Research survey found that "a solid majority of Americans" believed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the US legally "if they meet certain requirements." Of the Democrats polled, 80 percent agreed, Independents 76 percent, and Republicans 56 percent.

In 2015, Republicans running for president spoke on the immigration issue. On August 21, Donald Trump tweeted:

"How crazy – 7.5% of all births in US are to illegal immigrants, over 300,000 babies per year, This must stop. Unaffordable and not right!"

Trump said he would support the building of a "great, great wall" on the US-Mexican border. He complained:

They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.

It sounded to many like he was talking about the illegals in general, or Latinos in general, rather than specific illegals. Later, Trump said, "Latinos love Trump and I love them." Huffington Post cited a Gallup Poll that had 14 percent of the roughly 650 Hispanics interviewed saying they viewed Trump favorably while 65 percent viewed him unfavorably.

One of the other Republican candidates, Marco Rubio, said that only 12 or 13 million illegal immigrants were in the country – a rise of a million or so since 2009. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe", Trump said he didn't think the 11 million figure was "an accurate number anymore. I am now hearing it's 30 million, it could be 34 million, which is a much bigger problem." A former ambassador to the US from Mexico, Arturo Sarukhan, put forth the 30 million number.

Undocumented immigrants numbering 30 million would be 9.2 percent of the total US population (325.6 million). Staying with 12 million illegals would put the percentage of illegals at 2.7 for the year 2015, the same percentage as 2001 (when the US population was 285 million).

As of 1 July 2013, Hispanics were described as 54 million in number, or 17.1 percent of population, up from the 1.2 percent described for 1920. By comparison, blacks had risen from roughly 10 percent in 1920 to around 13 percent in 2013. Whites in 1920 are described at 88.6 percent, and in 2015 non-Hispanic whites were described at 62 percent. Some who were hostile toward Hispanic immigration blamed their big growth on people entering the country illegally. But among Hispanics there was also a higher birth rate: around 2.15 per woman compared to around 1.8 per woman among whites, blacks, and Asians.

Virtually no one was calling for government control of births – like China one-child law. Focus remained on the border with Mexico. Univision journalist Jorge Ramos confronted Trump. He described Trump's wall as "a complete waste of time and money" and cited a survey that claims that nearly 40 percent of undocumented immigrants come into the country by plane and overstay their visas. Trump had him forced from his news conference, which included someone telling Ramos, a US citizen, "to get out of my country."

Through August 2015 the efficacy of a fence across the entire 1,954 miles of border remained an issue. Already, in 2012, Homeland Security had completed 651 miles of fencing. Its fences had channeled those crossing illegally into more difficult terrain, with somewhere between 200-4000 said to die every year trying to cross. The US Border Patrol Tucson Sector reported on October 15, 2008 that its agents were able to save 443 undocumented immigrants from certain death after being abandoned by their smugglers. Fence building has reduced the number of Border Patrol apprehensions from 1,189,000 in 2005 to 463,000 in 2010. No one was arguing that the fence could not be improved (people have been playing volleyball using the fence as a net.) But there were those beside Jorge Ramos who have doubts about a fence that would seal the border, and there are those who would rather leave fence improvement geared to local circumstances and state initiatives, and there are those who want more focus on decreasing incentives to cross by continuing moves against those who hire illegals.

From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, no president has been able to control the US-Mexican border as much as they would have liked. Not every proposal will work, and nothing is going to return to non-Hispanic whites the power of number that they once had.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.