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Gutierrez: Debate on Immigration, Deportation Must Be Sensible

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in his Roll Call op-ed (“President Is Ignoring Immigration Laws,” Feb. 6), argues that a policy of deporting serious criminals instead of parents, military families and students attending college is bad for the country. Once again the Republicans are on the wrong side of the law-and-order approach to immigration.

Like so many Republican accusations about this president, the ones surrounding immigration come straight out of a fantasy world. I wish we had the president that Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) says we have. If we did, I could have saved two trips to Park Police headquarters for being arrested in front of the White House protesting the president’s deportation policies.

I praise the president when he does well, and I criticize him when he’s wrong. But the fact is that President Barack Obama has deported more people, put more personnel on the ground at the border and reduced illegal entry more than any previous president. He is proud of it and trumpets it frequently. But through the Republican political lens, he appears to be a president who is soft on illegal immigration.

The question is not how many people to deport. Unfortunately, given the complete obstructionism of the Republican side to craft a more sensible alternative, we are stuck with a system that forcibly removes about 400,000 people per year, with huge costs to taxpayers, families and communities. A population about the size of Minneapolis is deported every year, and we have reached our capacity to deport more.

For this president, the question has not been how many to deport but who to deport first. Republicans say we should deport anyone we find, even if that means reducing the number of criminals we deport and reducing the capacity of both local law enforcement and our criminal courts to go after actual violent criminals — regardless of whether they are immigrants. A sophomore in college or a handyman with two U.S. citizen children are simply not threats to public safety. But Republicans want them prioritized equally with someone who has murdered, driven while drunk or trafficked drugs. That is plain crazy, but that is the Republican approach to immigration.

When this Congress is over and the president is re-elected, I fully expect a debate on how we re-establish law and order in our immigration system, and I fully expect the leading Republicans on the immigration issue to fight every attempt at reform tooth and nail. Too many on that side of the aisle are addicted to scapegoating and denigrating immigrants — and Democrats — to have it any other way.

But the rest of us want a legal immigration system that works and a way for those who have been here for years and built lives here — the vast majority of those who are here illegally in the absence of a functioning legal immigration system — to get in the system and on the books so that immigration enforcement has teeth and employers play by the rules.

We will have that debate eventually, over the strenuous objections of Republicans who oppose a sensible law-and-order approach to immigration reform.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Immigration Task Force.

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