Rich Lowry: Obama's border crisis

It’s hard to imagine a more apt summation of the lunatic state of the nation’s immigration debate than the split screen over the past week.

In Washington, most respectable opinion lined up, yet again, to condemn Republicans for not passing an amnesty under the guise of defunct-for-now “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, the crisis on the Southern border continued. A massive influx of people — largely driven by Central Americans, many of them children — drawn here in the expectation of lax immigration enforcement is overwhelming border officials and facilities.

A Wall Street Journal story about the White House reaction to the crisis was headlined “Obama Plans Executive Action to Bolster Border Security,” which has a man-bites-dog feel to it after all of the administration’s executive actions to undermine immigration enforcement.

House Speaker John Boehner spoke imprecisely when he excoriated the president for “giving false hope to children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay.” Actually, the hope is quite real.

A leaked memo from a high-ranking Border Patrol official said that only 3 percent of non-Mexicans apprehended at the border are being returned to their native countries.

“It will not be open arms,” Vice President Joe Biden thundered in Guatemala City the other day, attempting to dissuade would-be migrants. “We’re going to hold hearings with our judges, consistent with international law and American law, and we’re going to send the vast majority of you back.”

The only part he had right is that we will hold hearings. The immigrants themselves may or may not be part of them.

The administration is waving the families and children into the United States, dispersing them around the country, and giving them a date — often quite distant because of a huge backlog — to appear in immigration court.

Experience says only about a quarter of illegal immigrants released pending a court date will actually show up for the proceedings.

Why would they? As Byron York of the Washington Examiner points out, once illegal immigrants are in the country, they fairly quickly can become part of the broad category of people that the administration has exempted from interior enforcement.

Even many of the illegal immigrants who go all the way through the system and get a removal order don’t go anywhere. According to Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, there are roughly 800,000 aliens who have been ordered removed but are still here.

For a would-be migrant, the question is: Whom to believe: Joe Biden or your lying eyes?

The administration claims to be deporting illegal immigrants at a rapid pace, but its numbers are based on statistical sleight of hand. The reality is that, thanks to a June 2011 executive action, the administration has gutted interior enforcement by essentially limiting deportations to criminal illegal aliens.

It is true that a Bush-era law forces the Border Patrol to hand over child migrants from countries other than Mexico to the Department of Health and Human Services to be placed with a suitable relative. The administration is rightly calling for that law to be changed.

But the administration’s policy of eviscerating interior enforcement is entirely its own creation. That policy, together with the president’s de facto amnesty of young illegal immigrants and all the talk of a more wide-ranging amnesty over the past year, has had a predictable effect.

The key to reversing the tide is enforcement, and not just at the border. But the same Wall Street Journal story with the headline about Obama bolstering the border reported he “will make at least minor adjustments to deportation policy later this summer that would shield some illegal immigrants from deportation” — with his base agitating for even more far-reaching action.

For the left, and its fellow-travelers in the business community and on the libertarian right, there is only one side of the split screen that matters. It’s always amnesty.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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