Obama is gearing up federal agencies to try to retake control of the borderSubmitted by bobbyw24 on Sun, 07/25/2010 - 19:04
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2010; 4:05 PM
In a bid to remake the enforcement of federal immigration laws, the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and auditing hundreds of businesses that blithely hire undocumented workers.
The Immigation and Customs Enforcement agency anticipates deporting about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration's 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007. The pace of company audits has roughly quadrupled since former President Bush's final year in office.
The effort is part of President Obama's larger project "to make our national laws actually work," as he put it in a speech this month at American University. Partly designed to entice Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, the mission is proving difficult and politically perilous.
Obama is drawing flak from hawks who contend the administration is weak on border security and from doves who are disappointed that he has not done more to fulfill his campaign promise to help the country's estimated 11 million illegal residents. Trying to thread a needle, the president contends enforcement -- including the deployment of fresh troops to the Mexico border -- is a necessary but insufficient solution.
A June 30 memorandum from Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton instructed officers to focus their "principal attention" on felons and repeat lawbreakers. The policy, influenced by a series of sometimes heated White House meetings, also targets repeat border crossers while declaring that parents caring for children or the infirm should only be detained in unusual cases.
"We're trying to put our money where our mouth is," Morton said in an interview, describing the goal as a "rational" immigration policy. "You've got to have aggressive enforcement against criminal offenders. You have to have a secure border. You have to have some integrity in the system."
Morton said the 400,000 people expected to be deported this year -- either physically removed or allowed to leave on their own power -- represent the maximum the overburdened processing, detention and immigration court system can handle.
The Obama administration has been moving away from using worksite raids to target employers. Just 765 undocumented workers have been arrested at their jobs this fiscal year, compared with 5,100 in 2008, according to Department of Homeland Security figures. Instead, officers have increased employer audits, studying the employee documentation of 2,875 companies suspected of hiring illegal workers and assessing $6.4 million in fines.
On the ground, a program known as Secure Communities uses