Last December, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published an end-of-the-year fact sheet in which it listed its successes under then-President George W. Bush in advancing a number of strategic goals, the first of which was entitled “Protecting Our Nation from Dangerous People.” The first achievement cited under this rubric was that it had “turned the tide against illegal migration to the United States,” by building fencing along the southern border, expanding the Border Patrol and carrying out “unprecedented” immigration enforcement operations.
Also under the “Dangerous People” heading, the department reported that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had “completed more than 1.1 million naturalization applications,” and that customs and border agents had “apprehended more than 1,020,438 people [sic], including 200 people with serious criminal records.”
This summation of the Bush administration’s accomplishments concisely expresses the transformation since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks of the federal government’s paradigm for immigration.
After September 11, Bush subsumed immigration under his counter-terrorism strategy and, in his final two years, adopted an approach that rested primarily on enforcement against illegal immigration. The crackdown started in 2006, but it became the leading edge of the Bush policy after his bill for comprehensive immigration reform crashed in Congress in June 2007. With at least 323,000 foreigners deported last year, according to official figures, the crackdown became the most intense immigration enforcement since the mass expulsions of Operation Wetback in 1954.
Yet despite the counterterrorism emphasis and the enforcement campaign, the number of undocumented immigrants in the country did not substantially decline. According to DHS’s estimate, in January 2007 there were about 11.8 million illegal immigrants in the United States.* Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the
Now come four books, written or edited by scholars, that provide a wealth of history about the ups and downs of
A Nation of Emigrants, by David Fitzgerald, a sociology professor at the
Starting with field work in a Mexican village, Fitzgerald examines
After the Bracero Program and through the 1990s, Fitzgerald writes,
The dominance of
The new strategy, conceived by then-Border Patrol chief Silvestre Reyes, won enthusiastic support in
Silvestre Reyes was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996 and remains there today. His approach, as Dunn describes it, offers an instructive comparison with that of the Bush administration after it was ordered by Congress in 2006 to build nearly 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) of border fence. Former Secretary Chertoff, using sweeping powers that Congress bestowed, waived some 30 environmental and other regulations, alienated officials in cities all along the
While border enforcement has generally become far more effective in the last 16 years, the
The volume edited by David C. Brotherton and Philip Kretsedemas, both sociologists, moves away from the border to examine “the shift towards an enforcement paradigm” within the
In one article, Mark Dow, a journalist, traces the legal origins of the confinement of suspected terrorists at the Guantánamo prison camp to the earlier treatment of Haitian refugees and Cubans from the Mariel boatlift. Some of the worst excesses these essays record, such as the mandatory registration of Muslim immigrants after 9/11, were dropped during the Bush administration. But the editors argue that the immigration system, with the new security overlay, works to find more ways to exclude newcomers rather than welcome them, and to force legal immigrants into illegality. They see an emerging “tiered system of rights,” with American citizens enjoying irrevocable rights while non-citizen immigrants have a tenuous legal status that can “always be called into question.”
In Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant, Lina Newton, a political scientist, analyzes changing depictions of “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants in congressional debates since 1986, in a text that is mainly for political theorists. She usefully shows how a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment among
These books illuminate some of the complexities that President Barack Obama faces as he weighs what to do about immigration. Border cooperation with
The new President’s larger task is to restore the balance in the immigration paradigm, reorienting the system so that it keeps dangerous people out but also returns to its essential function of welcoming immigrants in. For this, the new administration can actually build upon some elements of Bush’s legacy.
Despite all the shouting about the fence, there is considerable support among Americans, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, for effective border enforcement. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has nearly completed the 670 miles (1,078 kilometers) of showy and costly physical barriers required by Congress, freeing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to take a more pragmatic approach, working with border communities, to secure the 2,000-mile (3,219-kilometer) southern line. CBP has spent nearly $1 billion to build a “virtual fence” of cameras and sensors that has been plagued with technological problems.
Napolitano, drawing on her experience as governor of
There is also bipartisan support for enforcement inside the country to discourage illegal migration. Despite calls for a moratorium from immigrant advocates, the Obama administration cannot be expected to abandon workplace raids. But officials have said they will target their actions more closely on employers who base their business model on exploiting unauthorized immigrant workers. Napolitano has made it clear that she wants to avoid traumatic round-ups, while Hilda Solis, the pro-union Labor Secretary who is the daughter of Latino immigrants, has pledged to step up enforcement of labor standards.
A tilt toward greater recognition of immigrants’ rights will buy President Obama some time, but not a lot, before he has to confront the crisis of millions of illegal immigrants. While Jeffrey Passel’s recent surveys suggest that border enforcement, coupled with the recession, is dissuading immigrants from coming, years of field research by Wayne Cornelius, Douglas Massey and others have shown that in the absence of legal migration channels, border enforcement also deters those here from going home. As the recession deepens, more unauthorized immigrant workers are leaving as they lose jobs. But millions are hunkering down, clinging to low-wage work and retreating from community life. The economic collapse has made it far more difficult for President Obama to propose immigration reform, and also far more problematical for him to postpone it.