Research: Publications

Immigrant Crackdown Joins Failed Crime and Drug Wars

April 1, 2009 | Report

By Tom Barry

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President Bush's "war on terror" established the ideological rationale for the immigrant crackdown. But the campaign to detain and deport immigrants got its policy legs from two previous (and continuing) wars: the "war on crime" and the "war on drugs," both launched by President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s.

The new emphasis by the Obama administration on tracking down and removing "criminal aliens" indicates that the ongo- ing immigrant crackdown will be driven more by the imperatives of the crime and drug wars than by the ideological fears and fervor of the war on terror.

Removing "criminal aliens" from America's streets will be a new priority for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), says DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. President Obama's requested 2010 budget includes $1.4 billion for collaborative pro- grams to deport "criminal aliens."

The increasing DHS emphasis has met little opposition. Indeed, Democrats in Congress have consistently called for more DHS funding for criminal alien programs, and immigrant advocacy groups in Washington have given the issue a pass in the interest of building broad support for comprehensive immigration reform. Understandably, few immigrant advocates want to be seen as defending "criminal aliens"—a stance that would ostensibly undermine the credibility of their own oft-repeat- ed argument that immigration reform would enhance the "rule of law."

The recent alarm about the possibility that horrific violence associated with the U.S.-supported drug war in Mexico will spill over the border has been met by administration assurances that DHS and the Justice Department (DOJ) will deploy more law enforcement personnel to the region. Secretary Napolitano has promised to put more "boots on the ground" to secure the border against the compound threat of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking.

Part One of this policy report examines the increasing criminalization of immigrants and immigration law. Part Two exam- ines the links between the immigrant crackdown and the drug war. Part Three is a conclusion with recommendations for policy reform.

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