Immigration: Stopping the Surge

Immigration: Stopping the Surge

As President Obama and Congress deliberate how to address the surge of unaccompanied minors at the nation’s southern border, David Inserra, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation, scolds the government for its lack of enforcement of immigration laws.

We took a few minutes to speak with Inserra. The conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.

What is the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and how has it contributed to the ongoing immigration surge?

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act was a bill that was passed in 2008. It added a provision to the law that set up a different way of handling unaccompanied alien children from countries other than Mexico, non-contiguous countries. It meant that people who were from Central America or from the rest of South America, not including Mexico, had to be handled by the Department of Health and Human Services, not by the Department of Homeland Security.

The law contributed to making it more difficult to remove these individuals, because it provides that an alien child in the custody of HHS will placed in the "least restrictive setting" in the best interest of the child. About 90 percent of the time, that is the child's family, which can be located anywhere in the U.S. -- and this results in approximately 46 percent of unaccompanied alien children not showing up for their court date. They also have to go through the lengthy deportation process, which could take over a year.

What else is contributing to the surge? Don't we have laws that are supposed to deal with issues like these?

I would say there are two parts to that answer. First, there's the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum and other uses of prosecutorial discretion, that is, President Obama's ability to say, "I am not going to enforce the law against certain groups." This is encouraging more individuals to come to the United States illegally. They don't necessarily understand the complexities of U.S. immigration law. They simply understand that people are being allowed to stay, certain illegal immigrants are not being deported, and that is acting as encouragement.

To the other part of your question -- whether we have ways of dealing with this -- I would certainly agree. In this paper, I note that there is a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act which does allow the president to remove any or all aliens that he comes across. It is in the sole, unreviewable discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. They simply don't want to use that authority. So even though there is this William Wilberforce Law that is clouding the issue, I believe he does have the authority to deal with this right now, but he simply does not want to do so.

Do you think Texas governor Rick Perry's decision to send the national guard to the border is a legitimate response to the crisis?

I do think that sending about 1,000 national guardsmen to support the Texas Department of Public Safety is an appropriate response as a short-term solution. Guardsmen are great at helping Border Patrol, providing logistics support, providing surveillance support. 

But they are not a good long-term fix. They are not as cost-effective as the Border Patrol, and they aren't fully trained to do all the things which a Border Patrol agent is trained to do. So right now, helping people get back to the front lines, that is helpful. But not as a long-term solution.

What long-term policies should be enacted to deal with the crisis. 

First of all, we should rescind DACA and other policies that the president has used to not enforce the law against certain people because they don't fit his "enforcement priorities." Enforcement priorities simply mean that some people aren't priorities and we aren't going to enforce the law against them. That is an additional magnet for people to come here illegally. Once they are in, they are pretty much good. 

Another thing we should be doing is to clarify the William Wilberforce law. That will help streamline the process and make it clear to the president that he does have the authority to remove these kids in an expedited matter. 

In the long term we need to talk about building partner capacity in Latin America. There is a push factor -- conditions encouraging immigrants to leave -- in Latin America, and we do need to make sure we are cooperating with those countries, providing security assistance down there to stop the crime and corruption that is going on.

Michael Cipriano is a RealClearPolitics editorial intern. 

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