It is tempting to imagine that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has adopted a kinder and more just approach to its immigration enforcement mission.  After all, the department announced in recent days that it will henceforth focus its enforcement efforts on “high priority” immigration cases; that is, those cases involving serious criminals and individuals who are a threat to public safety or national security.  While this is a welcome, long overdue announcement, we must keep in mind that there are still DHS enforcement policies in place that are in dire need of repair.

For instance, according to a story in the New York Times earlier this month, U.S. immigration agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border have taken to detaining and sometimes arresting unauthorized immigrants as they try to leave the United States and return to Mexico. In other words, after pouring billions of dollars into immigration enforcement programs to make the United States as unwelcoming as possible to unauthorized immigrants, the Obama Administration has decided to make their departure just as difficult and to torment them as they leave. This policy is as nonsensical as it is cruel.

To be fair, the Administration is snaring unauthorized immigrants as it attempts to do what previous administrations have not: stem the flow of drug money and guns from the United States to Mexico, into the waiting arms of drug cartel leaders. But this neither explains nor justifies why immigration agents are arresting immigrants who have no connections to drug money or gun smuggling—and who are leaving the country. As the Times notes, even some vehemently anti-immigrant groups oppose this practice on the grounds that it slows, and perhaps even discourages, the departure of unauthorized immigrants from the country. In a surreal moment last year, the president of the nativist organization Americans for Legal Immigration issued a statement saying that:

“This is about the only situation we would ever advocate that our immigration laws be waived. We want to encourage the illegals to leave America on their own and thus we ask Obama to provide them safe passage out of America.”

When questioned about its illogical policy, the Administration resorts to a generic law-and-order explanation. An anonymous “administration official” told the Times: “We’re not trying to discourage anyone from leaving, but we do want to send the message that there are consequences for breaking immigration laws.”

As Greg Siskind points out in the AILA Leadership Blog: “Bad policies have consequences, as well. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have figured this out but the officials carrying out the bad policy.” Apparently, the Obama Administration doesn’t see the irony of making it hard for unauthorized immigrants to leave the county after expending so much time and effort telling them to leave the country.

Photo by nathangibbs.