Americans could view immigration policy three ways: Through the lens of a citizen, a client, or a consumer.
First, there is the small r-republican view of immigration through the lens of citizenship.
Second, there is the progressive view of immigration which passes through the lens of identity politics. What matters is not an individual’s citizenship or ability, but one’s race, ethnicity, and gender. In this framework, there are clients and there are service providers who manage the clients. The overarching framework is the administrative state.
Thirdly, for some Cato Institute libertarians what matters in immigration policy is neither the citizen nor the client, but the consumer. For them, the rights of the transnational consumer in the global marketplace are superior to the right of free people to rule themselves by determining their own immigration policy.
Immigration enforcement by the Trump administration is an example of an attempt to restore republican government, small r. It is based on the principle of the sovereignty of the people. Thus, in immigration policy (including enforcement) Trump believes that we should put the interests of Americans first, before the interests of foreign citizens.
These core principles of sovereignty, consent, and putting the interests of Americans first are directly challenged by two forces in America today: progressives and some libertarians.
On the transnational progressive Left, Nancy Pelosi makes a clear case for open borders. “We are all Americans—north and south in this hemisphere….This is a community with a border running through it.” So much for the concept of American citizenship
But is this much different from Libertarian Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute? He declares:
America’ core founding principle is the Enlightenment theory of natural rights….Freedom of movement is indispensable to the full use of those rights. To restrict an immigrant’s ability to move to the United States not only infringes upon his natural rights but also upon the natural rights of Americans who want to hire the immigrant…
Thomas G. West in The Political Theory of the American Founding explains that the Cato approach violates the core principle of government by consent of the governed. West states: “Since citizenship is the effect of a compact, there is no right to immigrate unless there is consent on both sides.” In other words, illegal immigrants are here without the consent of the people.
Let us now examine immigration enforcement by the Trump administration, which is a classic example of how small r republican government is supposed to work. What we see is the unitary executive in action, properly understood, with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Tom Holman, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, chief of staff John Kelly, and the president all on the same page regarding immigration enforcement.
To begin with, Trump’s first year saw an increase by 25 percent in interior enforcement which had plunged to a ten year low in Obama’s last year.
Under new leadership, ICE is going into sanctuary jurisdictions. Acting Director Holman said “If he [Jerry Brown] thinks ICE is going away we are not… “as matter of fact we are going to increase our enforcement presence in California.” In December and January ICE conducted raids in California, New York, Chicago, and New Jersey arresting criminal aliens, In New Jersey, 80 percent of these illegal immigrants had prior felony convictions. These crimes included: sexual assault, kidnapping, the production and distribution of cocaine, theft, and child pornography.
Some argue sanctuary policies are needed so that illegal (and legal) immigrants will not be afraid to report crimes. This myth has no basis in reality. A 2009 analysis by the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum found no decline in crime reporting after the implementation of a tough enforcement program.
Take the example of Prince George’s County in Maryland which has been a sanctuary county since October 2014. Since that time, as the Washington Post has reported, “people live in fear” because of MS-13. Gang control over local businesses is “enforced daily through extortion and intimidation.”
The rebirth of a once defunct MS-13 in the United States was fueled by fresh recruits from a massive wave of almost 200,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America. This wave was facilitated by the Obama Administration and gave asylum to boys, 16, 17, and older (they did not insist on any reliable proof of age) and placed them with illegal immigrant relatives where they were often recruited by MS-13.
The Trump administration has cracked down on MS-13. ICE conducted Operation Raging Bull from September to November 2017 and arrested hundreds of MS-13 gang members in “secessionist,” excuse me, I mean “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Their crimes include murder, kidnapping, sex-trafficking, drug-trafficking, assassinations, extortion, and blackmail.
Under Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has demanded documents and threatened subpoenas for 23 sanctuary jurisdictions under the 1996 immigration law. Justice has threatened to recoup funds previously delivered and cut off future grant money to 23 jurisdictions which include: Chicago, Cook Co, NYC, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Louisville, KY, Jackson, MS, and the states of California, Illinois, and Oregon.
The Department of Justice under Sessions is re-examining the policy of “Administrative Closure” which many considered a “back-door” amnesty by the Obama administration.
There are 350, 000 cases that have been closed “administratively,” simply at the discretion of the federal government. To be clear, these are illegal aliens that could be subject to deportation for various offenses. In addition, the regular backlog now stands at around 658, 000 cases. Put the two together and there are at least a million possible problematic cases of aliens living in the United States. Attorney General Sessions is reviewing this whole process to examine categories that might be re-opened as well as adding DOJ judges to speed these cases along.
Next, there is the matter of the K-1 fiancé visa. Let us examine this category of vetting concerning who is permitted to enter the United States. The woman involved in the mass murder terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California was admitted to America under the K-1 fiancé visa
There are two steps to the K-1 visa. The first step is a petition by the U.S. citizen to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request permission to enter the United States for his or her fiancé. This step is supposed to involve a face to face interview with an official of USCIS, but this interview was often skipped during the Obama administration.
During Obama’s last year in office, 90.5 percent of these petitions were approved. During the first year of President Trump, with more serious vetting, the approval rate fell to 66.2 percent. Step two is the interview of the alien fiancé by a U.S. State Department consular official overseas. This step was 99 percent approved under Obama. Under Trump, the denial rate increased by 20 percent. In other words, there has been a lot of fraud and poor vetting in the K-1 visa process which is now being cleaned up by the Trump administration.
Finally, there is VOICE, the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” office. This is an office created by an executive order of the president to assist victims of illegal immigrant crime. Some “conservatives” wrote in National Review that VOICE “would serve no good purpose.” Actually, the office serves several good purposes.
The creation of VOICE is a challenge to the sanctuary jurisdictions that protect criminal aliens and then release them into the general population, where they are free to commit even more crimes against Americans. Like, for example, Kate Steinle’s murderer in San Francisco who had illegally entered the United States six times, had been deported five times and had served over a year in various prisons for numerous felony convictions.
We need to delegitimize the entire sanctuary movement. The “center of gravity,” in this political war over immigration enforcement is the occupation of the moral high ground or the grand narrative, that explains the immigration story to the public. The creation of VOICE is one instrument among others, that should be used to seize the offensive in fighting for an immigration policy that serves, first and foremost, the American people.
It is important to note that almost all of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement measures have been fought tooth and nail by progressives, by some libertarians and “conservatives,” and by elements of the administrative state, particularly an increasingly lawless judiciary. Never doubt for a moment that on this issue progressives and many libertarians are allies and that both of them are major adversaries of immigration law enforcement and, thus, of democratic sovereignty.
Note. This article is based on a talk presented at a Claremont Institute-Heritage Foundation panel on February 22 on “Trump, Executive Power, and the Bully Pulpit.” The information discussed is based on the work of Andrew Arthur, Jessica Vaughan, Dan Cadman, Preston Huennekens, and David North at the Center for Immigration Studies.