CA protests derail migrant transfers

CA protests derail migrant transfers

Immigration children, beeler, cagle, June 30, 2014Recent days have seen the immigration issue intensify. At Murrieta’s Border Patrol station, protestors repelled a convoy of Department of Homeland Security buses carrying detained migrants who illegally crossed the U.S. border into Texas.

Instead of dropping off 140 detainees every 72 hours as planned, authorities left Murrieta with full buses, rerouting to a San Ysidro facility near the Mexican border. From there, detainees will be distributed among four San Diego-area locations. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

It’s a striking metaphor for U.S. immigration policy, which has reeled in the face of an unprecedented wave of refugee migrants fleeing terrible conditions in Central American countries including El Salvador and Honduras.

The confusion comes on the heels of another, smaller protest, which scrapped federal plans to fly detained families and children from Texas to Murrieta’s beleaguered station. Those canceled flights were replaced with others, although the status of the new itineraries is also uncertain. The Border Patrol appears to have planned arrivals in El Centro, San Diego and some destinations in Texas and Arizona.

The blame game

California has become the focus of federal plans thanks to the availability of its detention space, which is now in high demand. As many as 80,000 parentless children are expected to flow into the United States this year, deepening a humanitarian and political crisis that has thrown a monkey wrench into both Republicans’ and Democrats’ immigration policies.

Importantly, many of the young migrants seeking refuge do not suffer from the kind of confusion that plagues policymakers themselves. Over half say they have parents or other relatives already inside the country, according to Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute. Rosenblum warns that families and children are likely willing to risk deportation and detention because of a 2008 law that requires family members or foster families to host unaccompanied minors until deportation hearings can be arranged — a process that sometimes takes years.

Under pressure from allies and opponents alike, president Obama has vowed to take unilateral action, blaming Congress for failing to pass legislation that could have alleviated some of the current federal confusion. Speaker John Boehner, for his part, says he won’t bring a bill to the floor because Americans don’t trust Obama to enforce the laws already on the books.

A struggling president

Obama’s options, however, are limited — for practical and constitutional reasons. Nonetheless, activists and advocates are already planning to coordinate a political pivot in the run-up to November that would match the president’s efforts on policy. Their enthusiasm is tempered with frustration, however; one of Obama’s first moves was to order expedited deportation for detainees fueling the current controversy.

Obama also faces criticism of his apparent willingness to let the stream of migrants become a flood. At a Washington briefing, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he has “known about this for years” and slammed the White House for a “failure of diplomacy.” Perry has played something of a Republican good cop to Congress’s bad cop, taking state-level action while framing the problem as a tragedy brought on by the administration’s negligence and incompetence. In a recent op-ed, Perry praised federal officials on the ground for doing their best to cope, lamenting the “very real human consequences of our country’s lax border security and muddled immigration policies.”

The president’s struggle on illegal immigration isn’t restricted to his unilateral orders. The executive branch as a whole is often caught working at cross-purposes, seeking to accommodate more detainees on the one hand and, for instance, demanding California overhaul its planned drivers’ licenses for undocumented applicants. (The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t want those licenses to closely resemble the ones issued to California and U.S. citizens.)

At a time when his public opinion rating on immigration is at its lowest in four years, Obama may not recover on the strength of political blame and executive orders alone. That’s not just a problem for the remainder of his term in office; potentially, it sets up an unwelcome challenge for whichever Democrat seeks to replace him in 2016.

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