Why our approach to immigration ‘borders’ on the absurd

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., July 14, 2014 – Our political “customs” are in evidence as we see the immigration issue unfold. Recently, over 39,000 families and 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained for entering our southern border illegally. This latest surge adds to the 11-13 million individuals who are estimated to already reside in our country illegally. Yet, our elected officials are calling for emergency measures as if the problem represented a new phenomenon.

To put things in perspective: If these 11-13 million people were to reside in a single new State, it would have a greater population than all but seven of our existing 50 States, and on the high end, it would exceed the population of all but four States (California, Texas, New York and Florida). Roughly speaking, it would also qualify for somewhere between 16 to 18 members of the House of Representatives to go along with its two Senators. That represents real political power even when distributed among the existing States.

Now, you should understand how politically disruptive blanket amnesty could be.

Conversely, for those who would like to deport every individual who resides in this country illegally, here is some additional insight. According to a 2010 study by the Center for American Progress, it would take at least five years and cost approximately $285 billion dollars to apprehend, detain, prosecute, and deport even the lower estimated number of violators (i.e., 11 million) under our current law (assuming it was even possible).

Now, you should understand why blanket deportation is not a realistic option.

Why would our country not pursue an intelligent way to address the immigration issue that would protect the sanctity of United States citizenship, avoid threatening our Nation’s economy, and preserve the opportunities within our borders that attract more people to our shores each year to pursue citizenship legally than those who choose to immigrate to all of the other countries in the world combined?

The answer is easy: Our elected officials are driven to make political decisions rather than rational ones.

The actual issue is relatively complex and neither our Legislative Branch (which is vested with the responsibility under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution “To establish an (sic) uniform Rule of Naturalization”) nor our Executive Branch (which controls all of the Departments and Agencies that are vested with the responsibility and authority to enforce the related laws that are on the books) seems to be able to conscientiously address it.

The Legislative Branch (particularly with respect to its Conservative members) appears to be stymied by the word “comprehensive” in any discussion pertaining to immigration reform while the Executive Branch appears to believe it can pay limited deference to the Constitution and attend to the subject with a high degree of autonomy.

For purposes of simplicity, let’s examine the Obama Administration’s foray into addressing immigration given that enforcement is ultimately its responsibility.

As a starting point, here is an excerpt from a speech the President delivered in El Paso, Texas on May 10, 2011:

THE PRESIDENT:  “So, here’s the point. I want everybody to listen carefully to this. We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goalposts on us one more time.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: “They’re racist!”
THE PRESIDENT: “You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. (Laughter.) Maybe they want alligators in the moat. (Laughter.) They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.”
“But the truth is the measures we’ve put in place are getting results… And even as we have stepped up patrols, apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago. That means far fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally.”

Two years later on February 13, 2013, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano reaffirmed the President’s point during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on immigration reform by saying: “I often hear the argument that before reform can move forward, we must first secure our borders. But too often, the ‘border security first’ refrain simply serves as an excuse for failing to address the underlying problems. It also ignores the significant progress and efforts that we have undertaken over the past four years. Our borders have, in fact, never been stronger.”

Obviously, these assessments were flawed. So, what has gone wrong?

The Administration chose a path of selective enforcement. Rather than enforcing the immigration laws as written, the Department of Justice went to great lengths to pick and choose from among those laws. It spent taxpayer money to sue border States that had the audacity to attempt to protect their citizens and property rights in the absence of Federal enforcement.  Meanwhile, the DOJ blatantly ignored the concurrent violations of Federal law by certain “sanctuary” cities.

While the DOJ’s position was upheld by the courts on the basis of the Supremacy Clause and the Federal Government’s usurpation of the field under Article I, Section 8 (as previously cited), the courts did not rule on the issue of selective enforcement. That opportunity might arise if the House moves forward with its recent threat to sue the President for exceeding his authority (with respect to the administration of the Affordable Care Act).

Other Departments and Agencies were also ordered to “stand down” with respect to the enforcement of the immigration laws as written, which brings us to the President’s most recent rhetoric and action.

President Obama declared the most recent surge in illegal immigrants to have created “an urgent humanitarian situation.” This is particularly true with respect to the unaccompanied minors who are being sent here with the belief that the current Administration will offer them amnesty.

The United Nations agreed with the President and demanded that the United States receive these children as refugees due to the violent environments in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala from which many of them have fled. You should ignore the fact that the homicide rate on a per-capita basis in the south side of Chicago rivals anything seen in these countries. You should also assume that the U.N. has no greater global crisis upon which to comment; just ask the citizens of Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, or Ukraine.

While the President has visited nearly every other “urgent humanitarian situation” that has occurred during his two terms (i.e., the aftermaths of hurricanes, mass shootings, etc.), he avoided visiting a detention center in Texas during his recent trip to Austin for a political fund-raiser and a relatively meaningless platform speech. Perhaps it’s because the situation continues to broaden (unlike a hurricane or shooting), or maybe it’s because the Administration’s past decisions may have contributed to the chaos.

The President offered the following clarification about his decision not to visit the detention center: “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.” Unfortunately, his subsequent political stops did not necessarily reinforce that refrain.

However, the President did take action. First, he followed the time-honored tradition of blaming the other Party (which a Republican President would have done as well). Next, he called upon Congress to pass a $3.7 billion supplemental spending bill to provide the obligatory Band-Aid. Then, he washed his hands of any responsibility and shifted that charge to Congress in the event the bill didn’t pass.

The President’s $3.7 billion supplemental bill asked for:

  • $1.8 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide housing for the detainees along with medical treatment for those who might be bringing communicable diseases with them;
  • $1.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to increase border security;
  • $433 million for Customs and Border Protection to cover its labor costs and pay for additional detention facilities and air surveillance capabilities;
  • $64 million for the Department of Justice to hire additional immigration judges and lawyers to process more cases; and
  • $303 million for other expenditures the Administration believes might be necessary (including paying repatriation funds to countries to which deportees are returned).

Here is the challenge: Part of the responsibility of the Executive Branch is (or should be) to prioritize the expenditure of approved Department and Agency funds for administering the laws of the United States.

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security (and Customs and Border Protection, which reports to DHS), and Justice, for which the President is seeking supplemental funding, have tens of thousands of employees and tens of billions of dollars in their cumulative budgets that are specifically allocated to address immigration issues. Someone should ask:

  • Why have these resources been so ineffective?
  • How will the supplemental funds be directed to solve the current problem rather than just mask its symptoms? (Note: The stipulated uses of funds seem to predominantly focus on handling the logistics of processing individuals who are entering the country illegally rather than preventing the occurrence.)
  • What is the obligation of the State Department to address the issue directly with the countries that are permitting and, in some cases, even encouraging the violation of our borders (i.e., the application of possible sanctions such as reducing aid on a per-capita basis with respect to the cost of detention, arraignment, disposition, etc. associated with each country’s contribution to the problem)?
  • What is the root cause of the sudden surge in illegal entries, particularly among children?
  • What alternatives exist to address the root cause to prevent the problem from expanding?

These are legitimate questions. Unfortunately, they remain unanswered as we are expected to accept partisan attacks and political posturing in their place.

The current dilemma is a petri dish from which child endangerment, human trafficking, potential pandemics, criminal activity, and even terrorism might be expected to grow. It’s our money and our country, and we will be directly impacted if this “urgent humanitarian situation” is not resolved quickly and completely.

If you haven’t read this column’s July 4, 2014, article (It’s called the ‘Declaration of Independence’ for a reason), you should.  There is a certain level of irony when you compare the situation we are facing today with several of the indictments against King George, III that led to the Revolutionary War.

For example: King George was charged with acting independently to create or delay legislation that negatively impacted the colonies. He was also charged with having failed to protect the borders of our country, which placed lives and property at risk. It would appear that little has changed in the 238 years that have ensued.

While there is little you can do with respect to the actions of the Executive Branch prior to 2016, you can at least address the ineffectiveness of the Legislative Branch. All 435 seats in the House and 33 seats in the Senate are up for election on November 4, 2014. Don’t just vote for the “D” or “R” after a candidate’s name. Take the time to become informed and cast a responsible vote rather than a partisan one. It’s the best chance you’ll have in the near term to prevent situations like the immigration crisis from spiraling out of control.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).