I was preparing to applaud the Obama Administration and specifically Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for announcing the deportation of a record number of criminal aliens last year. According to the Washington Times, "the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 392,862 aliens in fiscal year 2010, slightly less than a 1 percent increase over 2009 but short of the agency's goal to remove 400,000 this year."
What curbed my enthusiasm was news that removal of other illegal immigrants - those not convicted of crimes, though it could be justifiably argued that their status as illegal immigrants is, by definition, the breaking of American law - fell to the lowest number since 2007.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, said while it is nice that Napolitano believes removing people in the country illegally is an important function for the Department of Homeland Security, "policy directives from the highest levels of DHS clearly demonstrate that the administration is refusing to enforce laws against noncriminal aliens."
That bad cop/good cop approach is designed to pacify those on the political right while the administration and some Democrats in Congress simultaneously lay the groundwork for legalizing those who broke our laws to get here and remain in the country illegally.
In a desperate last-minute pre-election move to win more votes for Democratic candidates, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 prior to adjournment. This bill, if passed, would effectively grant amnesty to illegal immigrants currently in the country. No one expects the bill to pass when Congress returns for a lame duck session, especially if Republicans win a House majority and make substantial inroads to the Democrats' Senate majority, or take back the Senate.
According to FAIR's analysis, DHS data show the Obama Administration has "dramatically curtailed all aspects of immigration enforcement against illegal aliens who have not committed violent crimes in this country." FAIR says when it comes to enforcement of the law at worksites, "administrative arrests have fallen by 77 percent, criminal arrests are down 60 percent, indictments are down 64 percent, and convictions have fallen by 68 percent since 2008."
We have seen this political game played out over many years and with administrations of both parties. Big business, which mostly contributes to Republican political campaigns, wants cheap labor and so favors illegal immigrants. Democrats want the illegal immigrants because they see them as potential Democratic voters.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, says, "Millions of Americans are struggling to find work, while an estimated 7 million illegal immigrants are working in the U.S. Worksite enforcement could help make those much-needed jobs available for U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers."
That is a debatable point whether the unemployed would be willing to do the grunt work illegal immigrants often do, especially when Americans can now collect unemployment checks for more than a year. What should not be debatable is that lax enforcement of our immigration laws leads to more disrespect for those laws and serves as an incentive for more people to enter the country illegally.
This is what occurred following the "comprehensive" immigration reform under Ronald Reagan and it would happen again unless our borders are fully secured and something is done about those illegal immigrants already here. Granted, they won't all be deported, but they should not be allowed to escape punishment for breaking the law. Otherwise, the law is meaningless.
So let's hear it for Homeland Security's successful deportations of criminal aliens. But given that the U.S. is only enforcing a portion of its immigration laws, all I can offer is the sound of one hand clapping.
Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at email@example.com.