It’s clearer than ever that Barack Obama’s permissive immigration policies encouraged prospective immigrants to endure hardship and risk lawlessness.
Illegal immigration from Mexico peaked in 2007, but migration from Central America through Mexico did not. According to the New York Times, the increasing arrests of illegal immigrants have combined with Donald Trump’s rhetoric to “scare” off prospective Central American migrants—people who, in the Obama years, might have entrusted their lives to smugglers.
“The Mexican authorities recorded a 56 percent drop in the number of undocumented immigrants detained in their country—many of them presumably on their way to the United States—in the first four months of the Trump administration, compared with the same period last year,” the Times reported. That dispatch quoted Honduran smugglers confirming Mexico’s statistics and bemoaning their declining prospective clientele
Obama’s defenders will insist that the idea he pursued a permissive policy toward immigration is a lie. They will cite Obama administration statistics that contend the president deported more illegal immigrants than past presidents (statistics augmented by the conflation of deportations and arrests at the border). They’ll also cite the Obama Justice Department’s effort to sideline so-called “sanctuary cities.” But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. In their own words, as reported by the Times, prospective Latin American migrants no longer believe the risks and costs of illegally migrating to the U.S. are worth the rewards.
Even the Obama White House tacitly admitted the existence of the incentives he put in place for potential illegal immigrants. In January of 2015, the last administration worked with Mexico to forestall an anticipated illegal immigrant bloom as a result of his executive action deferring deportation for the illegal immigrant parents of minors born in the U.S. or naturalized as U.S. citizens (an action later stayed in the courts).
In the end, there was no dangerous explosion of illegal immigration, which is what happened after Obama’s executive order deferring deportation of undocumented minors in the summer of 2014 (when Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans made up the bulk of apprehended border-crossers). Experts attributed that decline to the enhanced efforts of law enforcement on both sides of the border. Yet nothing has been so effective at reducing illegal immigration like stripping that activity of the prospect of success.
As of early May, illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Southwestern border had declined an eye-popping 76 percent over the course of the Trump administration—a 17-year-low. This occurred despite the fact that the border patrol doubled in size over the course of both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. It occurred despite the investment of billions in fencing, drones, and sensor technology at the border. It occurred despite the fact that the U.S. economy continues to recover, the prospects for employment in the U.S. are high, and political instability in Latin America is on the rise.
The increased deportations in America are, in many cases, heavy-handed. The Trump administration should observe more discretion and prioritize the removal of criminal illegal immigrants over otherwise law-abiding non-citizen residents. Yet the decline in prospective migrants making a dangerous journey to the U.S. is a welcome outgrowth of this policy. It relieves the strain on governmental resources on both sides of the border and will ultimately save lives. That’s a policy worth considering.