Oops. The AP reports:
The U.S. government has mistakenly granted citizenship to at least 858 immigrants from countries of concern to national security or with high rates of immigration fraud who had pending deportation orders, according to an internal Homeland Security audit released Monday.
The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general found that the immigrants used different names or birthdates to apply for citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and such discrepancies weren’t caught because their fingerprints were missing from government databases.
The report does not identify any of the immigrants by name, but Inspector General John Roth’s auditors said they were all from “special interest countries” — those that present a national security concern for the United States — or neighboring countries with high rates of immigration fraud. The report did not identify those countries.
The gap was created because older, paper records were never added to fingerprint databases created by both the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI in the 1990s. ICE, the DHS agency responsible for finding and deporting immigrants living in the country illegally, didn’t consistently add digital fingerprint records of immigrants whom agents encountered until 2010.
The government has known about the information gap and its impact on naturalization decisions since at least 2008 when a Customs and Border Protection official identified 206 immigrants who used a different name or other biographical information to gain citizenship or other immigration benefits, though few cases have been investigated.
One of the biggest obstacles to “comprehensive immigration reform”—a 1986-style amnesty-for-enforcement deal—is that so few people who care about the issue trust the bureaucracies that would be charged with enforcing it. Immigrant communities see these agencies as unacceptably callous, even brutal: they are filled with the same inefficient, self-dealing, slapdash yet overly-rigid types that make up so much of the late-Blue Model administrative state. Imagine if the DMV could raid houses or deport your grandmother.
The restrictionist right, on the other hand, remembers the failure of the “enforcement” side of the 1986 compromise, when illegal crossings were back up to pre-deal levels within a year of passage. (This fact is shockingly under-discussed in the media’s discussion of the immigration debates.) Much of this, restrictionists believe, is due to elites in the upper reaches of the administrative state and among politicians of both parties who were uninterested in carrying out that end of the bargain. But a good deal was also due to the serious technocratic shortcomings of the immigration bureaucracies. These shortcomings have persisted despite (or perhaps, made worse by by) the creation of the multi-hundred-billion dollar DHS behemoth and decades of oft-ignored Congressional mandates for systems like e-verify.
In theory, then, this should be an area that’s ripe for compromise: more efficient enforcement for more humane enforcement—they’re almost flip sides of one another. In practice, of course, few bargains are less likely, as a quick look at our politics shows. The elite left has redefined immigration enforcement as racism almost per se; at the same time, the left has also to a large degree bought its own BS on President Obama being the most prolific deporter in recent memory and feels any more enforcement is an unreasonable ask. The left therefore is unable to own up to its governance responsibilities in this area, or even see how that failure is an obstacle to its larger-scale goals.
The restrictionist right, on the other hand, has become in large measure paralyzed on the policy front even as it reaches new heights of populist rhetoric. Some of this is inherent in the nature of populism—all of those technocrats you need to make a system work are by definition elites, after all, and so anathema. But some of it is due to the fact that, being unable to take seriously the promises enforcement for which it is bargaining, the restrictionists’ position collapses into incoherence, frustration, and in many cases, near-hysteria.
There’s nobody in sight who can break either of these cycles. And that’s really bad news. Under these circumstances, the broken status quo is in some ways a least-worst scenario. Attempting an immigration-for-enforcement deal or an enforcement-first approach under President Clinton or Trump, respectively, without fixing our callous and careless enforcement bureaucracies would seem a recipe for failure, grievance, and further deterioration of our immigration policies.