A Closer Look At Obama Administration's Controversial Deportation Plans
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We hope you had a meaningful holiday. And now we turn to news that broke just before Christmas that's sparking an intense reaction from both immigration rights activists and those who favor a more restrictive immigration policy. We're talking about reports that ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - has plans to deport hundreds of families that came to the U.S. as part of the recent surge in Central American migrants, this according to The Washington Post citing unnamed sources, who also said that the operation would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who crossed during the recent surge. The story said the operation is focused on those who already have been ordered removed from the U.S. by an immigration judge. We wanted to take a closer look at this issue so we've called two people with very different views about what the country's immigration policies should be. Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Welcome, Mark, thanks for coming.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Thank you
MARTIN: Also with us is Elizabeth Keyes. She's a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and directs the Immigrant's Rights Clinic there. Professor Keyes, welcome to you as well, thank you.
ELIZABETH KEYES: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: So, Mark Krikorian, you were quoted in The Washington Post story that first broke this news. And you said, I'll believe it when I see it. It's just for show. It's enforcement theatre. Why do you think that?
KRIKORIAN: Well, because we're talking here about people who've been ordered deported and the administration has done nothing about actually making sure that they go home. This is theater, I think, for two audiences - one probably for the American public to some degree, to make it seem as though the administration is taking this renewed surge of Central Americans seriously. But the other audience, I think, is people in Central America because since last summer, they've been running ads down there - the United States government has - don't come, it's dangerous. You will be immediately deported. That's literally what it says in Spanish. Well, nobody's being deported - nobody - practically. And so what the people down there getting is the American government is telling us that you're not going to be able to stay. But, in fact, they're letting almost everybody stay. And so what they're trying to do is show that at least some people are going to get deported.
MARTIN: I want to ask you in a minute what's wrong with enforcement theater. Some people would argue that theater is part of enforcement. But I'm going to ask you to hold that thought and get Professor Keyes's perspective on this. I assume that you, like other people who tend to defend the rights of immigrants, are disturbed by this.
KEYES: I'm very disturbed by it, especially the timing of coming, right before Christmas. I think it really puts in perspective the harshness of the policy. It sounds very reasonable on the surface to go after the people with final orders of removal. But what is important to understand is that a final order covers many, many different kinds of people - people who never got their notices to court in the first place because ICE had wrong addresses for them, through no fault of their own, just sort of typical bureaucratic confusion. It also refers to people who tried and showed up to court but never succeeded in getting legal representation because lawyers are overstretched. And there are some people who had their cases heard and judges ordered them removed, but those people, too, have some sympathy we should give them because our refugee laws are very narrow. And if they weren't able to fit within some of the narrow confines of our refugee law, judges would order them removed even while saying - and I've seen this - I understand you're afraid; I believe you're afraid; I believe bad things will happen to you, but I cannot grant you relief. So we're looking at a very wide range of people with these final orders.
MARTIN: Well, Mark Krikorian has a theory about why. Do you have a theory about why?
KEYES: I do believe that this is intended to send a message to Central Americans. I think it's an ineffective message to send because parents who see their children facing the kinds of atrocities that my clients face will do anything to keep their children safe. I can't imagine this is going to be particularly effective, but I believe that's what the administration is at least trying to do.
MARTIN: Mark Krikorian, what's wrong with enforcement theater?
KRIKORIAN: Well, enforcement theater is OK if it's reality theater. In other words, obviously, you want to make it clear, you want to make people see that the law is being enforced. But the question is - are we deporting a couple hundred people for show or are we actually making a serious effort to remove everybody who's got a final order of removal? When I say enforcement theater, what I mean is a kind of pretend enforcement.
MARTIN: I'm not asking you to speak for the administration. But the administration has said previously that it was going to make undocumented immigrants with criminal records a priority. So why then put resources into these people, as opposed to focusing again on people who have violated other laws?
KRIKORIAN: In enforcement, you always have to have both a focus on the really worst actors - you know, gang bangers, in this case, drug dealers, that sort of thing - but also routine enforcement because think about, for instance, the IRS. They don't say, OK, well, if you're not a money launderer, it doesn't matter whether you fill your tax return out right or not. They have both. They go after the really bad actors and they have a kind of general, routine enforcement
MARTIN: What do you think accounts for such a broad difference of opinion about this policy in this country? This is one of the most polarizing issues in front of the American people right now. And since I gave you the first word, I'm going to give Professor Keyes the last word on the same question. So, Mark Krikorian?
KRIKORIAN: The interesting point is that the polarization is not so much among the public, although there's some of that. The polarization on the immigration issue is really between the elites and the public. In other words, this is not so much a right-left issue, which it is partly. But it's more an up-versus-down issue because the research has shown that opinion leaders, whether they're elected officials, journalists, business leaders - it's academics, religious leaders - they have dramatically different views on immigration. And they are much more skeptical of the very idea of having immigration limits, whereas the public - again, independents and Democrats, as well as Republicans, although not necessarily all in the same proportions - have a much stronger sense of the American government and American law having responsibility to Americans specifically rather than to people around the world. So the polarization is up versus down, not really right versus left.
MARTIN: What you say about that, Professor Keyes?
KEYES: I don't think on this issue there is as much polarization because many people see these parents coming with children, and they put themselves in the position of those parents - what would I do for my child? We're not talking about immigration policies as a whole. There the polarization is very different. This is a humanitarian question, and people want to live up to that tradition in American history. We do not want to be on the wrong side of history with this. I believe most people share that. And I think of this issue - it's not about numbers, it's not about jobs. It's about protecting clients like my 5-year-old whose father was shot while they were out walking hand-in-hand in Honduras. That's the kind of thing people are fleeing. And when Americans hear those stories, they understand people need to protect their children.
MARTIN: Elizabeth Keyes is professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and directs its Immigrant's Rights Clinic. Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. And they were both kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C., studios over this holiday weekend. And I thank you both so much for coming in.
KRIKORIAN: Thank you.
KEYES: Thank you.
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