August 8, 2010
by Jazmine Ulloa
An independent study that found that deportations of illegal immigrants have increased under President Barack Obama drew fire from Texas Republicans who said the figures skirt Obama’s inadequate response to the issue of border security.
The report released last week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University said that 279,035 undocumented immigrants had been deported in the first nine months of this fiscal year — a 10 percent increase compared to the 254,763 deportations in the same time frame in 2008, the last and busiest year of President George W. Bush’s administration.
The findings come amid a tense political debate that has pitted comprehensive immigration reform against questions about whether the Obama administration has done enough to secure the nation’s borders.
Supporters of immigration reform have said the nation is in a period of enforcement, in which not only deportations but also immigration prosecutions continue at high levels, similar to the situation under Bush.
Studies show Obama continues to pour billions of dollars into the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some immigration attorneys say he has stepped up the criminalization of immigrants so much that they have given the system a new name — “crimmigration.”
The TRAC study states that the deportation figures undermine blasts from GOP leaders that Obama has failed to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Texas Republican leaders said that although Obama might be targeting noncitizens inside the country, he is not placing enough focus on tightening the border to keep undocumented immigrants from entering in the first place.
“While we are pleased these actions are increasing, you cannot secure the border with investigations and prosecutions alone,” said Katherine Cesinger, deputy press secretary for the Office of Gov. Rick Perry. “The governor has continually urged the Obama administration to increase the number of law enforcement personnel patrolling the Texas-Mexico border. Without adequate manpower available to patrol the border, it will continue to be exploited by drug and human traffickers.”
How to secure the border?
Border security came to the forefront of the immigration debate when an Arizona rancher was killed allegedly by drug smugglers, leading eventually to a new Arizona law that has incited national controversy because it requires local, county and state law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law.
But surging violence in Mexico has kept border security at the center of the debate, often displacing comprehensive immigration reform. Gov. Rick Perry on a recent trip to Brownsville was clear about his position — border security first, immigration reform second.
“The whole issue of immigration reform is a waste of time until you focus on the issue of border security,” Perry said. And for most Republican leaders, the issue appears to be about more resources, more technology and more boots on the ground along the border.
President Obama announced in May that he would deploy 1,200 National Guardsmen to the Southwest border and request $500 million for border protection and law enforcement activities to combat illegal activity. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department announced last month that more than 250 of those troops would begin arriving in Texas this month.
But in Brownsville, Perry said he did not think Obama was sending enough troops to the state, which he said needed at least 3,000 — not the mere 286 it has been allocated.
“It is a first step. I will be blunt — it is a baby step,” he said of the deployment.
In a op-ed article in the Austin-American Statesman, U.S. Rep Henry McCaul (R-Austin) and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) call for a “layered strategy” to patrol the Texas-Mexico border. The congressmen push for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which use cameras, radar systems and other sensors to provide real-time intelligence to the Border Patrol.
In a statement, McCaul said the increased number of deportations was not enough.
“The fact remains that until we commit to a comprehensive strategy to secure our borders and aggressively address illegal immigration, we will continue to see an influx of illegal crossings,” he said.
Frank Morris, chairman of the Cameron County Republicans of Texas, said he has not seen enough commitment by the current administration to border enforcement projects, such as the U.S.-Mexico border fence.
“The fence became so controversial in the media that other means to secure our border had to be utilized instead of completing the fence,” Morris said. “You can’t do these things half-heartedly and say they’re not working. The fence is not working – of course it is not working, it hasn’t been completed.”
Immigration advocates and attorneys counter that the emphasis on border security is part of the GOP’s strategy to obstruct immigration reform, leaving millions of undocumented immigrants to live in the shadows.
Javier Maldonado, in immigration attorney in San Antonio, said the United States has been focusing on border security since 9/11.
“Everything has been about securing the border, from tightening our financial laws, tightening national security laws, to increasing the personnel on the border,” he said. “We need a balance.”