Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Deportations will leave aftershocks for years

By Ruben Navarrette
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • About 30 deportees in Mexico went to U.S. border to try to re-enter as a protest
  • Ruben Navarrette: Immigration activists are tired of administration's political games
  • Navarrette: Soon, the number of deportees will hit 2 million; collateral damage is families
  • We should listen to the protesters on the border and fix this mess, Navarrette says

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- This week, there was a massive attempt to gate-crash on the U.S.-Mexico border, part of the "Bring Them Home" campaign. A better name for it would be "Operation Return to Sender."

About 30 young immigrant deportees, intent on re-entering the United States from Mexico to rejoin families or resume their lives, tried to cross the border. Donning caps and gowns or wearing T-shirts that read: "I Am Undocumented," they politely presented themselves to U.S. border agents to ask for asylum -- and essentially dared the authorities to make a federal case out of it. They were quickly apprehended and shuttled away.

And -- like the Malaysian jetliner that disappeared -- they haven't been seen since. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents said privacy laws prohibit them from revealing what happened to the uninvited guests.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

If you think that's the real reason for their silence, I have eight Southwestern states that used to belong to Mexico that I'd like to sell you.

The real reason the agency is keeping quiet is politics. No matter what the administration does with those it apprehended, it is going to catch heat. If it lets them stay in the United States to pursue asylum claims, as it did with others who entered the country in similar fashion last year, the right wing will be upset. If it simply deports the immigrants back to Mexico, or locks them up in a detention facility, the left wing is likely to rise up.

As it is, many immigration activists at the grass-roots level have had their fill of this administration and its political games. They're frustrated because President Obama broke his promise to Latino voters to make immigration overhaul a top priority; because he seems to think flowery words are just as good as decisive action; and because he is better at removing the undocumented than at finding ways for them to stay in the United States.

This month, Obama is expected to reach a dubious milestone: the 2 millionth deportation under his watch.

Obama's administration, with its highly aggressive Department of Homeland Security, expanded a program called Secure Communities, which ropes local police officers into enforcing federal immigration law, Arizona-style. The administration has deported more people than the population of Nebraska. Along the way, as collateral damage, it has also destroyed hundreds of thousands of families.

That is part of what this protest at the border was all about. Some of those who were removed have refused to take "go" for an answer.

Perhaps they took the President at his word when he promised to use his executive power to get things done if Congress refused to act. Apparently, those "things" don't include something that clearly falls into the purview of the executive branch: stopping deportations. Or perhaps they bought into his rhetoric about how undocumented young people who were raised in the United States are Americans in every way except legal status. If that's true, why can't they come home?

Obama has made hash out of his immigration policy by pretending to be lenient toward illegal immigrants while dropping the hammer on them. He can be a nice guy, or a tough guy, but not both. He should pick one and stick to it.

That's why the administration -- and its defenders in the self-serving Washington-based immigration lobby -- would like to ignore what happened this week on the border. Every time an immigration activist turns down the rhetorical crumbs offered by this administration and demands something more substantial, it reveals that, on the immigration issue, liberals aren't as liberal as they like to think.

It's one thing to say that the system is broken and needs to be fixed so that our borders are secure and people who want to come here legally can do so more quickly and efficiently. It's another to go to bat for those who have been deported.

Because these folks were here illegally, it's easy to argue that they got what they deserved. Yet, what should worry Americans is that -- in a misguided attempt to ease the pressure that working-class Americans feel from competing for jobs with illegal immigrants -- Obama has used the heavy club of a powerful agency that was designed to fight terrorism. The administration is seeking, in the 2015 fiscal year, a staggering $38.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security for a "continued commitment to the security of our homeland and the American public." This, to uproot 2 million people who pose no threat to the homeland or the public.

For years, U.S. authorities would use their discretion to keep immigrants out of removal proceedings: battered wives who went to police for help, tamale vendors who gathered outside grocery stores, people with green card applications pending, children with U.S.-born relatives. These are the people being deported.

Those 2 million deportations also include classes of people that Obama has routinely said will not be deported, such as Dreamers -- those undocumented young people who were brought here as children -- and parents with U.S.-born children.

The days of common sense immigration enforcement are over. In the last five years, it's all been about driving up the numbers by any means necessary. It worked. The damage is done. We'll be suffering the aftershocks for generations to come.

That's what the protesters on the border were trying to tell us. We need to listen.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT