Point-CounterpointDebating immigration: Alabama's new law, Obama's strategy

Published 2 November 2011

In the first of a new ongoing Point-Counterpoint Debate series, Homeland Security NewsWire’s executive editor Eugene K. Chow interviewed Mary Giovagnoli, the director of the Immigration Policy Center at the American Immigration Council, and Ira Mehlman, the media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform; the two weighed in on President Obama’s current immigration strategy, the effect of Alabama’s tough new immigration law, and what lawmakers can do to curb illegal immigration

Debaters Ira Mehlman and Mary Giovagnioli // Source: facebook.com/cambiodecolores.com

Homeland Security NewsWire: How would you rate the Obama administration’s current immigration strategy? In particular, do you think the administration’s focus on deporting dangerous criminals has been a successful approach?

Mary Giovagnoli: There are approximately eleven million unauthorized immigrants in the United States. The administration has limited resources and therefore must prioritize enforcement. The Obama administration has prioritized “serious criminals” and others who present a threat to public safety or national security. This appears to be a smart way to use limited resources effectively.  However, a closer look at the enforcement statistics shows that many non-criminals are still being deported, and many of the “criminals” that are being deported have been convicted of a misdemeanor, often driving without a license, or an immigration offense like illegally re-entering the United States.  These are not “criminal aliens” in the way that most Americans think about criminals.

Because of the way criminal offenses are categorized, minor offenses can appear to be serious crimes.  For example, drug-related crimes can include everything from dealing large amounts to simple possession, burglary can include even a minor shoplifting offense, and immigration crimes include illegal entry and reentry. For a long time, immigrants who crossed the border illegally or re-entered the United States after being deported were simply deported; they were not prosecuted for a federal offense.  However, prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry have increased dramatically in recent years (accounting for nearly half of all federal prosecutions filed). This means that the number of “criminal aliens” convicted of immigration offenses has increased as well.

The Obama administration has credited Secure Communities for the increase in deportations of “criminal aliens.” However, 57 percent of all immigrants deported through Secure Communities were convicted of misdemeanors or other minor offenses or had no criminal convictions at all.  

Ira Mehlman: President Obama’s immigration strategy is to convince the American public that he is serious about enforcing U.S. immigration laws, while actually doing very little in that area. While no one would argue against prioritizing the removal of dangerous criminals, the administration is pursuing this effort at the exclusion of all other immigration enforcement. Every law enforcement agency in the world pays special attention to criminals who pose the greatest danger to society, while still enforcing laws against less threatening offenders.

Imagine if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it would only audit tax returns of people earning more than $1 million a year. It is perfectly legitimate to place