Under the Obama administration, the government has removed almost 400,000 illegal immigrants annually. That's 4 percent of the 10 million illegal immigrants estimated to be living in America -- and it sends a warning to those thinking of illegally entering the United States.
Thanks to the Secure Communities program, which requires local law enforcement to share arrestees' fingerprints with Washington, about half of those deported have criminal records. According to the administration, the vast majority of the rest either recrossed the border after deportation or were recently caught.
So what did the White House announce last week? On Thursday, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Munoz blogged that the Department of Homeland Security will review its entire deportation caseload -- that's 300,000 cases -- to "clear out low-priority" cases and "make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told The New York Times that the policy would protect youths with clean criminal records whose parents brought them into the country when they were minors. That is, he likened the Obama policy to his proposed legislation, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act.
Actually, the Obama policy goes much further than shielding minors. Under the guise of "prosecutorial discretion," a Department of Homeland Security memo advises officials to consider a number of "positive factors" before prosecuting offenders. "Positive factors" include military service, "long-time lawful permanent" residency and being a minor, elderly, disabled or a woman who is pregnant or nursing.
On the one hand, the policy seems smart; let the government concentrate on deporting threats to public safety.
On the other hand, the White House essentially has announced that individuals who break federal immigration law are a "low priority" and unlikely to face legal consequences. So much for deterrence.
Worse, the new policy will allow individuals who have been caught up in a Secure Communities review to apply for work permits. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies, said that the new policy makes getting arrested equivalent to winning the lottery: "Their fellow illegal aliens who were not arrested don't get work authorization."
Krikorian calls the new policy "administrative amnesty." Obama failed to persuade Congress to change the law. Now, with the 2012 presidential election looming, he changed policies implemented in the Clinton and George W. Bush years by fiat.
Bush's Secure Communities program enabled Obama to boast that his administration delivered the greatest number of illegal immigrant removals ever -- 395,165 -- in fiscal 2009. In 2010, the number fell. Last month, he told the National Council of La Raza, "Here's the only thing you should know. The Democrats and your president are with you."
Re-election, after all, is his highest priority.