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Since President Obama won reelection in November with the backing of more than 70 percent of Latinos, Republicans have made a lot of noise about courting the Latino vote. The reasoning is clear enough. Latinos are a growing portion of the population, with an increasing capacity to swing outcomes at the ballot box.
In late January, rhetorical appeals started giving way to the possibility of real policy change. In the Senate four Republicans and four Democrats signed a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide legal status to undocumented immigrants already in the United States and create a path to citizenship. These are major demands in the Latino community. Obama blessed the plan, and House Republicans, who have historically been hawkish on immigration, appear willing at least to debate it.
But the proposal has come under criticism for its requirement that the path to citizenship be opened only after “enforcement measures [are] complete.” It’s not clear how completion would be established, and some argue that after years of concentrated efforts on border control, it is time to move on to citizenship.
Today the southern border appears to be under less strain than it has been in many years. Border Patrol agents are apprehending a decreasing number of immigrants. By contrast, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been scaling up, with the help of local law enforcement. In 2002 ICE accounted for only 10 percent of all Department of Homeland Security apprehensions. By 2011 that figure was nearly 50 percent, suggesting that immigration enforcement activities are moving away from the border, into the interior of the country.
The shift to interior enforcement has had serious consequences for immigrants who have settled in the United States. Between July 1, 2010 and September 30, 2012, nearly a quarter of all deportations—204,810 of them—involved parents claiming U.S. citizen children. This is more than twice the number of such parents deported between 1998 and 2007. If current trends continue, by 2014, Obama will have presided over more than 2 million deportations in total—a greater number of deportations in six years than in all of American history prior to 1997.
Tanya Golash-Boza is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced and author of Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America.
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