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July 11, 2013 3:11 PM About That “Can’t Trust Obama on Enforcement” Meme

By Ed Kilgore

Anyone following the immigration reform debate closely is aware that opponents of the Senate-passed bill (including Senators like Rand Paul) have increasingly focused on the argument that “hard triggers” for achieving enforcement benchmarks prior to legalization, or congressionally defined and enforced “soft triggers,” are necessary because the Obama administration can’t be trusted to enforce the law.

What hasn’t much been discussed is the fact that when it comes to border enforcement, the Obama administration has actually been very, very hawkish, precisely because it was considered necessary to make it possible for Republicans to support comprehensive reform.

The administration’s enforcement record, and its political rationale, were the subject of an original article at Ten Miles Square in June 2012 by James Verini. Indeed, argues Verini, Obama’s 2012 “Dream Lite” enforcement policy that gave a reprieve to children brought into the country illegally was in many respects an effort to deal with a tough enforcement regimen that had gotten out of hand:

Before the order, Obama’s program has focused almost exclusively on enforcement—last year Immigration and Customs Enforcement saw to just short of 400,000 deportations, or more than a thousand people every day. ICE says that’s an all-time record. Many Latinos and immigration rights advocates, however, call it a catastrophe.

This deportation record has gotten extensive coverage in Spanish-language media, and was hardly a secret to anyone. In fact, the reliance of House Republicans on the Obamacare implementation delay “scandal” to make their case about the administration’s untrustworthiness on border enforcement may be a backhanded recognition that the more direct argument isn’t credible.

But there’s a very different lesson for the White House in this story: taking actions thought to be popular with conservatives in order to create good will among congressional Republicans is rarely a good idea. They’ll either ignore the evidence or come up with some other reason to oppose the hated Obama.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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