Is Hillary Clinton dishonest, as so many Americans think? One clue is her position on President Obama’s ramped-up deportations of immigrants. Clinton claims to be adamantly opposed, saying, “Large-scale raids are not productive and do not reflect who we are as a country." But Hillary knows full well that President Obama’s deportation program is critical to getting her elected. She’s just making the right noises.
The. Obama administration faces another – and even larger – crowd of Central Americans trying to cross the border this summer, reminiscent of the uncontrolled surge in 2014. While the number of Mexicans illegally entering the country has dropped, there has been a steady rise in people coming in from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Border Patrol statistics show that in the past six months (October 2015 to March of this year) some 32,117 migrants have been apprehended at our southern border – up 131 percent over last year’s tally.
The border collapse two years ago horrified Americans who actually believed official statements that our boundaries are “secure.” A repeat – with primetime footage of refugees swarming across the Rio Grande -- would be invaluable for Donald Trump, who has promised to solve our immigration problems once and for all. Consequently, the White House is desperate to stem the flow.
By deporting some families back to Central America, they hope that the word will spread: don’t bother coming north. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest recently admitted as much, saying of the deportation scheme, “If this serves to discourage people from considering making this journey, that would be a good thing.” Representative Louis Gutierrez of Illinois confirms, saying the administration “was leaking word of the deportations to scare people away from coming to the United States.”
They know the message will quickly percolate south, because that’s what happened in 2012 in response to President Obama’s DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That initiative was passed five months before Mr. Obama’s reelection bid, when frustrated Hispanics were wavering in their support of the president. Not only did his measure inspire another strong turnout of Latino voters, it unleashed a wave of in-migration from Central America. Since the start of 2014, some 100,000 families from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have entered the U.S.
The DACA signaled, in particular, a softer stance on young illegals. Consequently, the number of unaccompanied minors from Honduras surged from 2,997 in 2012 to 18,244 in 2014. The number coming in illegally from El Salvador and Guatemala rose from 7,149 to 33,461.
Horrified by video of our border guards overwhelmed by tens of thousands of people simply walking into the country, Americans hardened their stance on immigration, and booted Democrats out of the Senate. To turn the tide, President Obama asked our southern neighbors for help; Mexico obliged by rounding up families en route to the U.S. Obama also sent VP Joe Biden to Central America to broadcast the fact that our doors were closed. The message was heard, and the number of migrants dropped in 2015.
They are rising again today for two reasons. First, a judge in California last summer outlawed holding people in “unlicensed or secure” centers for more than a few days, while their applications for asylum were considered. As a result, thousands of families were released, and told to appear in court at a later date. Not surprisingly, many promptly disappeared. Moreover, many who were denied asylum – estimated at as many as 15,000 families – stayed in the country despite being ordered to leave. Once again, the message went out: it is a good time to come.
At the same time, Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba has caused thousands of people from that country to travel to the U.S. through Central America. Cubans are worried that the thawing of relations between the two countries might end existing policies which grant automatic sanctuary to refugees. According to one report, for instance, “The number of Cuban migrants crossing through Panama has increased from 1,154 in 2012 to 35,905 through March 2016.”
The Obama administration thus continues what has been seven years of vacillation on immigration policy. On the one hand, he has issued executive orders to protect millions from deportation, the largest of which is now under review by the Supreme Court. On the other, Obama has deported more people than any of his predecessors – 414,481 last year alone, down slightly from the year before. The prior record was 358,886, in 2008 when George W. Bush was president. The current round of deportations targets those whose application for asylum has been denied. In January, 121 women and children were arrested in a raid; that’s apparently just the beginning.
Despite this uneven record, Latinos continue to support Democrats, and are an essential part of the Obama coalition. The number of Hispanics likely to vote in this year’s election is estimated at 13.1 million, up from 9.7 million in 2008. Their vote is especially critical in numerous swing states like Nevada, Florida and Colorado. Hillary Clinton, who is struggling to attract young people who were another pillar of the Obama coalition, must keep Latino support. Donald Trump’s candidacy has pumped up registration in this group, but widespread deportations won’t help her cause.
Hillary Clinton is in a bind. She must oppose the raids that incense Latinos and immigration advocates, but she’s well aware that a serious confrontation this summer at the border could cost her the election. As usual, she is parsing her words: “I’m against large-scale raids that tear families apart,” she has said, adding that families “should be given a full opportunity to seek relief.”
Careful words indeed. According to Homeland Security, they have had that chance, and failed.