Obama deportation policy could be 'nightmare' for law enforcement
The Obama administration says its new deportation policy will focus only on the worst criminals, not college kids and maids. But that could make the jobs of law enforcement – from local cops to federal agents – much more complicated.
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Immigration advocacy groups have lashed out at President Obama, who has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants. Several federal programs, including the Secure Communities database, have enabled local law enforcement to sweep up not just hardened criminals, but maids and college students without prior criminal records.Skip to next paragraph
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For his part, Mr. Obama has said he needed Congress to step up in order to make substantive changes to immigration law, noting at in a June speech that “I need a dance partner here – and the floor is empty.”
Thursday's announcement represents the White House's attempt to take matters into its own hands, to the degree it can. The new guidelines are a way to make sure that low-priority cases are kept "out of the deportation pipeline in the first place" so the Department of Homeland Security can focus on people with major criminal records and those who might pose a security risk, said Cecilia Munoz, the White House's director of intergovernmental affairs.
"I think it's definitely the broadest, strongest signal that the Obama administration has sent," says Ms. Sefsaf.
But while pro-immigration groups applauded, some law-enforcement groups grimaced. To be sure, some police have fought back against programs like Secure Communities, a fingerprint database that allows local law enforcement to find and report illegal immigrants, because it undermines working relationships with Hispanic communities. But even some who support broad-based immigration reform say the president's "band-aid" approach may do more harm than good.
"The president is sending out mixed messages to ICE agents, the border patrol, and to citizens," says Michael Wildes, a former prosecutor with the US Attorney's office in New York and now an immigration lawyer in Englewood, N.J. "Basically, it's telling law enforcement to go easy, and that's a bad message."
Others, however, suggest that the intersection between local law enforcement and immigration authorities has become increasingly complicated and could do with some clarification.
In that light, "I think it's important to see [the new deportation policy] not as a record-breaking announcement, but as a continuation of this administration's commitment to exercising discretion as part of a strategy of smart enforcement," says Laura Lichter, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "I can't imagine there's a single agency who wouldn't rather be going after serious criminals than someone who is, frankly, not worthy of their attention."