During a recent press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, President Obama expressed his “frustration over our broken immigration system.” He has said he supports a comprehensive approach to reform where “the federal government takes its responsibilities for securing our border seriously.” In May, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in The Arizona Republic that the Obama “administration has made every conceivable effort to secure our border.”
But, recent actions of the Obama administration suggest that it is not really committed to enforcing the law:
On May 19, John Morton, the president’s appointee who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), expressed objections to Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law and suggested that his agency would not necessarily process illegal immigrants referred to it by Arizona law enforcement officials.
Just a week earlier, Michael Posner, the president’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, condemned Arizona’s law in talks with representatives of the Chinese government, which consistently ranks among the worst human rights violators in the world. If the Obama administration can’t distinguish between Arizona’s legitimate effort to secure the border and enforce the law on the one hand, and China’s persistent pattern of abuse and repression of its people on the other, what confidence can we have that it will vigorously enforce any new border security laws?
On May 25, the president indicated he may deploy up to 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border, yet he made no mention of the idea just minutes before during a meeting with Senate Republicans. Perhaps it was because — as we have since learned — the Guardsmen will be relegated to desk jobs, rather than border security. Perhaps, as an ABC-network affiliate suggested, the announcement was just meant to torpedo the more meaningful deployment of 6,000 troops that Senator McCain and I have proposed.
Democrats in the Senate have proven no less hostile to border security initiatives. When Senators John McCain, John Cornyn and I offered a series of border security measures on May 27, the majority of Senate Democrats voted to block their adoption.
One of our measures would have funded the deployment of 6,000 National Guardsmen to the border, with 3,000 to be deployed in Arizona. It won a majority of votes — 51 to 46 — but failed to win the necessary 60 votes to pass under Senate procedures.
A second would have provided $200 million to fully fund Operation Streamline (a program to incarcerate individuals illegally trying to cross the border instead of just releasing them), and provide for the hiring of additional U.S. Marshals, construction of additional detention space, and additional judges and court staff, among other things. It, too, won a majority of votes — 54 to 44 — but not the required 60 votes to pass.
A third would have provided $3.1 billion for border security enhancements, including counterdrug enforcement, construction of ports of entry, hiring of border enforcement personnel, the acquisition of UAVs, and assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies. Again, it won bipartisan support and a majority of votes (54 to 43), but failed to win the necessary procedural votes.
Until the president and congressional Democrats really get serious about border security — and back their words with deeds — there is virtually no chance that comprehensive reform will pass. Nor should it.
The fact is, it is not necessary to pass comprehensive immigration reform to secure the border, as the president suggests. But it is necessary to secure the border before the American people will even consider the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.