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The Day Immigration Reform Died | Commentary

The recent revelation that the Obama administration had released more than 36,000 illegal immigrants who had been convicted of other crimes should be the brightest red flag yet for those who claim to want to improve the laws that supposedly protect our borders.

That the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency freed the prisoners is further proof of a move toward backdoor amnesty for illegal immigrants. The occasion of the publication of that information could well come to be known as the day immigration reform died.

President Barack Obama is notoriously impatient with the constraints placed on his powers by the Constitution and the Congress, a trait which ought to give pause to any supporter of so-called immigration reform. His is an administration that broadly claims executive authority, particularly with regard to immigration laws, exercises its own discretion in enforcing some existing laws and shows complete disregard for others.

The news from ICE was shocking in its scope. The thousands of illegal immigrants released from custody had been found guilty of a total of almost 88,000 crimes, including 116 homicides, 43 counts of voluntary manslaughter and one classified as “homicide-willful kill-public official-gun.” Throw in thousands of drunken driving convictions and other crimes, and the picture is clear that these inmates were not simply in custody for their most basic crime: being illegally present in this country. Yet they were released into the neighborhoods of America, supposedly having paid their debt to our society and sent along their way. This should be appalling to anyone who cares about the rule of law or public safety.

A statement of explanation from ICE — since edited following its initial release — does little to clear the air if one is willing to look a little deeper. The agency said some of the inmates had already served their criminal sentences, others were released at ICE’s discretion based on their offenses, and still others were freed in compliance with a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring release after six months. The last claim laying blame on the high court begs greater scrutiny.

As pointed out by National Review, it is true that the Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas v. Davis that the federal government can detain illegal immigrants for up to six months before deporting them, but after that must usually release them if there is “no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future.” In many cases, the reason there is no “likelihood of removal” is that the illegal immigrant’s home country has refused to take back its nationals. The Boston Globe reported that more than 20 countries, “from Jamaica to China routinely block deportation of their citizens.”

The explanation from the Obama administration would end there with the blame falling on foreign governments, if not for an inconvenient federal law. In cases exactly like this situation, the State Department is required to stop issuing new visas for citizens of countries which have blocked the deportation of their nationals. Obama’s State Department, formerly run by Hillary Rodham Clinton and now led by John Kerry, has done no such thing. In fact, former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the House Judiciary Committee in 2011 that she was unaware of any actions the administration had taken against countries which had refused the return of their deported citizens.

(Incidentally, the House was forced to pass legislation that redundantly requires agencies to follow federal laws. It allows Congress to bring lawsuits against the executive branch for failure to comply with the law, and also requires agencies enforcing policies contrary to statutes to explain why. Naturally, these bills received little notice in the Senate and are currently collecting dust somewhere in Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office.)

The administration’s reckless release of thousands of criminal illegal immigrants, coupled with the complete disregard for a federal statute regarding the issuance of visas, is just one more piece of evidence of Obama’s disdain for circumstances that do not suit his goals. His drive to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants already present must be motivated by politics, since it is clear it cannot be based on public safety or adherence to current law. Other administrations have been lenient on foreign governments, but the totality of the president’s poor record on immigration law enforcement is unparalleled.

Desperate over his failure to pass the DREAM Act to address the children of illegal immigrants, the president had ICE issue a memo detailing “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines for what classes of people should be prosecuted or deported. The administration will also no longer initiate deportation proceedings for certain of those who say they arrived in the United States before the age of 16, although the method by which these claims are proved is unclear. True discretion would be exercised on a case-by-case basis, and not used as a blanket policy.

An administration that sues a state like Arizona for empowering local law authorities to enforce immigration laws ignored by the federal government is not serious about protecting our borders. Indeed, the president’s budget proposal even zeroes out funding to cover part of the cost of locally incarcerating illegal immigrants being held for other crimes. The practice has even trickled down into localities around the country; Philadelphia, for example, has begun to refuse to honor detainment requests for illegal immigrants.

There should be no consideration of amnesty, or anything that remotely resembles it, while our current laws and borders are so flagrantly and willfully ignored. Similarly, there should be no talk of opening the door to millions more who have flouted our laws at a time when millions of legal residents are unsuccessfully looking for employment.

The release of more than 36,000 illegal immigrant criminals made headlines recently. Perhaps that will one day be known as the day immigration reform — if it leads to amnesty — died.

Rep. Lou Barletta is a Republican from Pennsylvania.