President's Plan Hinges on Congressional Approval
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And we're joined by NPR's Jennifer Ludden, who covers immigration to talk about some more of the things that the president talked about in his speech from the Oval Office tonight.
Jennifer, one of the things was holding employers accountable. What does that mean and what's the practice been?
JENNIFER LUDDEN, reporting:
A lot of people see this as the crux of the problem. Unless you can do this, nothing's going to work. Twenty years ago, there was an amnesty and they made it illegal to hire an undocumented worker, but it was never enforced. There were too many loopholes.
Now the president's talking about a biometric ID card that legal immigrants would have to show their employers. There is also in the Senate legislation this computer program, and in the House, that employers would be required to use to see if a social security number was legal or not.
But all these problems are rife with problems within them. It's not clear that they would be solid. And there's a real lack of confidence in the immigration agency. We've seen, essentially, this administration has given up on fining employers. You know, there was a lot of fines in the ‘90s, employers who had found to employee illegal immigrants were given civil fines. It was deemed not working and so now this administration has said we're going to go for the high profile criminal convictions.
And a few weeks ago, they announced a conviction, charges against a company and they arrested about 1100 of their workers. Hundreds of them were let go in the following days because they didn't have enough detention space to hold them.
BLOCK: One of the other things the president talked about was ending what's known as the catch and release program. Why don't you explain a bit about what the program is and how it would be ended. What would happen?
LUDDEN: Again, it's about beds in jails and prisons to hold people that you catch at the border. There's thousands of arrests made every day and then where do you put these people? There's about 20,800 detention spaces for the immigration agency to use right now in this country. And far more undocumented aliens than that and so if you arrest more, there's no where to put them. Today, the immigration agency said in Texas they opened up a new facility. It's for families. It's the only one down along the border. They had decided that migrants crossing over saw a loophole. If you had a child with you, you were kinda let go. So they said, nope. Now we can detain the entire family. And there's 500 beds there for that.
BLOCK: Is the idea that there might be more facilities like that?
LUDDEN: There is, they're, the immigration agency is asking for money to go up to about 27,000 detention spaces by the end of next year. It costs 90 dollars a night to hold an illegal immigrant and they just need the money.
BLOCK: The president also talked about more money to be given to the state and local officials, too, to help them deal with the problem. How would that work?
LUDDEN: This would be delegating immigration enforcement powers. And it's been a trend that's bubbled in recent years. It's got a lot of traction in the House of Representatives. You delegate your state and local police officers to carry out immigration functions. I think it's got a lot of traction. There's a line of localities and states that want this training. It's also very controversial, because a lot of the police departments are very opposed to it. They say it's really gonna erode the community policing that they've spent years building up to get the trust of immigrant communities so they report crimes to them.
BLOCK: NPR's Jennifer Ludden covers immigration. And Jennifer, thanks very much.
LUDDEN: Thank you.