State as well as federal policies fuel illegal immigration

The Bulletin

The surge of tens of thousands of Central Americans to our southern border is the predictable and inevitable consequence of government actions that encourage illegal immigration.

For that encouragement, President Barack Obama bears most of the blame. Culpable too, however, are policies enacted by states — such as driving privileges for illegal immigrants, more on which is below.

But first things first. “In his time in office,” USA Today correspondent Alan Gomez wrote recently, Obama “has stopped the worksite immigration raids … and created a program that has granted protected status to more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.” That program, writes U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., “declare(d) to the entire world that America will not enforce its immigration laws against those who enter the country as minors.”

Of Obama’s “record” deportations? The Los Angeles Times’ Brian Bennett: “Deportations of people apprehended in the interior of the U.S. … dropped from 237,941 in Obama’s first year to 133,551 in 2013.” Of last year’s deportees from the interior, some 80 percent had serious criminal convictions.

But under Obama, “minor criminals, even chronic reoffenders, reckless or drunk drivers, those with families, those rejected for green cards, anyone claiming to have been brought as a child, and relatives of veterans are all considered off-limits for enforcement,” writes Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies. The result? “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally,” says John Sandweg, past acting director of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, “your odds of getting deported are close to zero.”

All this has been duly noted by Central Americans. Indeed, the El Paso Intelligence Center reported recently, many of them arriving at the border have told U.S. Border Patrol agents their “primary reason for migrating to the United States was the perception of U.S. immigration laws granting (them) free passes or permisos” — a perception doubtless fed by Obama’s long history of immigration leniency.

As if that weren’t enough, many state governments have offered another layer of inducements to illegal immigration. California, for instance, has restricted businesses’ ability to discipline or terminate employees who worked for them using false Social Security numbers. Illinois has provided illegal immigrants substantial health and child care benefits above and beyond federal emergency care mandates. A number of states, including Oregon, offer illegal immigrants in-state college tuition; Texas qualifies them for college financial aid.

But perhaps the state policy most beneficial to illegal immigrants — and the most powerful magnet drawing them to the 11 states that offer it — is access to legal driving privileges. Case in point: Eddie de la Cruz of Hermiston’s Hispanic Advisory Committee told the East Oregonian recently that many of Oregon’s illegal immigrants have left for (in the newspaper’s words) “states where they are allowed to drive to work legally.”

In May 2013, Oregon’s Legislature passed and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill enacting driver cards for illegal immigrants. But opponents forced a referendum onto this November’s ballot that will enable Oregonians to approve or deny those cards.

If they vote “yes,” they will make Oregon what Obama and many states governments have made the nation as a whole: a more attractive destination for illegal immigrants. If they vote “no,” they will demonstrate to the nation that they will not add to the kinds of policies that caused, and perpetuate, the border surge.

Policymakers everywhere will be watching closely. With their vote, Oregonians should tell them: Stop creating the incentives that attract illegal immigrants to our home.

— Richard LaMountain served as a chief petitioner of the referendum effort to repeal immigrant driver cards. He lives in Portland.