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Rogers: U.S. Lags on Sending Illegal Immigrants Away

The Obama administration is practically out of the business of deporting illegal immigrants arrested at work sites in America. It has instituted a new version of “catch and release.” What the new policy should be called is “virtual amnesty.”

[IMGCAP(1)]Last year in Bellingham, Wash., 28 illegal immigrants were arrested during a raid at a manufacturing plant after they admitted getting their jobs by false documents. Not only were these individuals released, 24 of them were given permits to find jobs!

Over the course of a year, the administration has quietly changed immigration policy by reprioritizing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. This past year, ICE has been slowly and systematically de-emphasizing its capture and deportation of illegal immigrants in exchange for other priorities — namely identification and removal of illegal immigrants who are criminals. I agree with the emphasis on the removal of criminals. However, ICE’s performance statistics indicate the agency is no longer enforcing our immigration laws by deporting noncriminal illegal immigrants who pose a threat to American jobs, our rule of law and the obvious way terrorists have exploited our immigration system.

The statistics don’t lie. Last year, ICE’s noncriminal illegal immigration arrests during work site enforcement operations declined 68 percent and trickled down to a mere 24 arrests this January. Over the same time period, work site enforcement arrests for criminals also declined by 60 percent to just 20 in the month of January. Similarly, work site enforcement indictments and convictions are down 58 percent and 63 percent respectively over this time frame. Meanwhile, ICE reports that it has 3,800 detention beds that are empty, for the first time in years, although there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

While some may argue that noncriminal illegal immigrants simply don’t pose the same threat as arms dealers, human traffickers, violent offenders and international drug smugglers, it’s important to note that all of the 9/11 hijackers would have been classified as noncriminal. These extremists exploited our legal immigration system to overstay visas, exploit loopholes and ultimately conduct the most heinous of crimes against our country. Moreover, in just this past year, we’ve seen three serious terrorism cases that involved individuals who could not be categorized as “criminal aliens” and all of whom manipulated the legal immigration system: the Najibullah Zazi case in Denver and New York, the Hosam Smadi case in Dallas and the Christmas Day underwear bomber over Detroit. Given that known terrorists have flaunted our immigration system, why is ICE refusing to pursue these cases, incarcerate where necessary and deport as required by law?

The rapid decline in immigration enforcement also matters to the health of the economy. With 10 percent unemployment, mounting foreclosures and tight state and local budgets desperate for tax revenue, legitimate jobs matter. While Wall Street seems to be rebounding, the recovery for Main Street has been slow in coming. And yet we are giving near virtual immunity to some 11 million illegal immigrants working at our factories, on the construction site or in our fields as Americans look for jobs. This shadow employment depresses wages, reduces tax revenue and in some instances leads to worker exploitation. When we have hardworking American families struggling to keep food on the table we should be utilizing every avenue to ensure that they are first in line for a job, not relegated to the back behind millions of others who came to this country illegally.

Finally, ICE’s singular focus on “criminal aliens” is actually hurting our efforts to contain violence on the border. The violent drug war being waged by the Mexican drug cartels results in spillover violence along the southern border, and these illicit drug lords have infiltrated all of our major cities. Most recently, we’ve seen three Americans slain in Juárez, Mexico, the murder capital of the world. Needless to say, these drug lords are extremely dangerous, and they will not hesitate to manipulate our legal immigration system in order to make a profit off our citizens addicted to these deadly drugs. Immigration enforcement is key to stopping these criminals from crossing our border and perpetuating the drug epidemic and the violence that comes along with it.

While no one is arguing against ICE’s laudable efforts to lock up criminal aliens, let’s be clear about what this immigration enforcement policy shift really amounts to — amnesty. We have far too much at stake to play politics with the mission of ICE. Regardless of one’s opinion on comprehensive immigration reform, ICE still has a duty to use every tool at its disposal to fulfill its mandates and improve our homeland security. We need to fully enforce our immigration laws so that terrorists can be stopped, Americans have a fair shot at getting a job and the violent drug cartels are prevented from spreading their poison through our borders. Failure in this regard is simply not an option.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has served on the Appropriations Committee for more than 25 years and currently serves as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

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