The Obama administration’s failure from this summer’s border surge looks even worse in hindsight, according to an analysis released Monday by the Center for Immigration Studies that found the Homeland Security Department knowingly released most illegal immigrants into the community where they absconded, blending into the rest of the illegal immigrant population.
Most of those coming were not unaccompanied minors, but rather members of family units — at least one parent with a child or children, who under the law could have been held and deported quickly.
But the Obama administration ended up releasing almost all of them instead, and few have shown up later to be deported, according to statistics obtained by KPRC-TV in Houston and analyzed by CIS policy studies director Jessica Vaughan.
“It’s not clear to me what is smart or effective about a massive and costly catch-and-release scheme that has resulted in the illegal resettlement of tens of thousands of illegal aliens,” Ms. Vaughan said.
Without deportation, she said, American taxpayers bear the costs of schooling, health care and housing.
Indeed, Health and Human Services, the agency charged with housing the children, issued a round of grants this month totaling about $60 million to dozens of shelters to care for the children.
The surge was a major headache for President Obama. He said it put his plans to declare a deportation amnesty on hold for months and made him wait until after midterm elections so it would not hurt his party’s candidates.
In an interview with NPR released Monday, Mr. Obama said he declared the amnesty because the U.S. cannot deport all illegal immigrants right now.
He also said he believes many Republicans’ opposition to his amnesty and to broader efforts to legalize illegal immigrants is the result of “a nativist trend” within the GOP. He challenged other Republicans to reject that line of thinking and instead work with him on granting illegal immigrants a full path to citizenship.
“The question then becomes, by me having taken these actions, does that spur those voices in the Republican Party who I think genuinely believe immigration is good for our country? Does it spur them to work once again with Democrats and my administration to get a reasonable piece of legislation done?” the president told NPR.
Mr. Obama previously predicted a deportation amnesty like the one he announced last month would cause another surge of illegal immigration, and many Republicans say the president’s 2012 amnesty for Dreamers — illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — helped spur the summer’s surge.
The children and families caught over the summer told the Border Patrol they were coming for a “permiso,” or “free pass” that would give them a court date but allow them into the U.S., where they could abscond and blend in with the rest of the illegal immigrant community.
The analysis says that’s exactly what happened for most of them.
Ms. Vaughan said 92 percent of the families apprehended were let go on the promise that they show up for their deportation hearings. Of those, 91 percent never showed and are now part of the illegal immigrant population, she said.
The Homeland Security Department, which oversees immigration at the border and the interior, forwarded questions about the analysis to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles deportation.
ICE acknowledged that it wasn’t prepared for last year’s surge but vowed to do better in the future.
“ICE, for instance, recently opened its fourth family residential facility in Dilley, Texas, to detain and expedite the removal of adults with children who are apprehended while illegally crossing the Southwest border,” the agency said in a statement. “These facilities help ensure timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States.”
Ms. Vaughan rejected the excuse that ICE was caught unprepared. She said the agency in 2012 worked up an emergency plan to deal with an immigration surge, either by land or by sea, that involved setting up tents to house illegal immigrants so they could be sent back home quickly.
That didn’t happen this summer, and Ms. Vaughan said it was likely because of a disagreement over how seriously the administration wanted to take enforcement.
“It’s not like they didn’t know what to do. They made a choice — they decided not to do it,” she said.
The surge itself has dissipated. In June, about 10,000 family units and 10,000 children traveling alone were caught at the border. By September, those numbers had dropped to about 2,300 family units and 2,400 children.
The numbers ticked up to about 2,600 children and 2,400 family units in November, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned this month that the numbers could rise again because of better weather at the beginning of the year.
“When the new year comes in, illegal migration starts to crank up,” he said.