Borders Mean Nothing Without Interior Enforcement


May 31, 2023

By Tom Homan and Matt O’Brien

The eyes of every U.S. citizen who cares about American sovereignty are currently turned toward the crisis along the Rio Grande. The imagery currently coming from the Southwest border zone is both disturbing and disconcerting. But, in reality, the chaos down south is only part of the story.

As soon as it began, the Biden Administration promptly set about doing everything in its power to dismantle our border controls. That’s bad enough. But Team Biden has also completely abandoned its responsibility to remove immigration violators who were already here.

According to reliable estimates, prior to the current border surge, roughly 5.5 million illegal aliens entered the United States during the first two years of the Biden Administration. Those individuals were added to the existing community of unlawfully present aliens, which has been projected to consist of anywhere between 15.5 million and 22 million people. And, at his behest, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing absolutely nothing to find and deport these immigration law breakers.

Per annual reports issued by DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 267,258 aliens in FY 2019, the last fiscal year that ran entirely under the Trump Administration. That places FY 2019 on par with other years when enforcement-minded administrations used the full capacities of both the DHS and the Immigration Courts.

In FY 2020, part of which fell under Joe Biden, the number of aliens deported by ICE dropped measurably to 185,884. In FY 2021, the total number of ICE removals dropped precipitously, to 59,011. FY 2021 was the first fiscal year that occurred entirely under the Biden Administration. In FY 2022, the number of ICE removals rose slightly with a total of 72,177 alien deported from the United States.

FY 2023 doesn’t end until September 30, 2023, so updated removal data isn’t yet available. At present, however, the DHS website claims that it has increased “removals and returns” compared to FY 2022. But don’t believe the hype. If the published numbers for FY 2023 wind up appearing to be higher than those for FY 2022, it will most likely be because Biden and his faithful minion, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, combined “returns” and “removals” – two separate and distinct categories of expulsions – to create the false impression that they’re actually doing something about immigration violators.

While the southern border tends to attract the most media attention, interior immigration enforcement may, in the end, prove to be even more important than border management.

According to the DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics for 2019, “removals” are “the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.” “Returns,” on the other hand are “the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.”

In the past, DHS and its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, drew a bright line between removals and returns. That’s because removals represent the end of a complex process that typically involves locating and arresting an alien; presenting the alien for a civil trial before the U.S. Immigration Court; and the formal execution of an Order of Removal issued by an Immigration Judge. The annual number of removals has typically risen and fallen according to the level of commitment a particular administration has shown to enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Returns, on the other hand, generally involve the rapid expulsion of aliens arrested on, or within a few miles of, the border, along with people who withdraw their applications for admission to the U.S. at a port of entry. In fact, in the jargon used by DHS officers, returns are referred to as “turn-arounds,” since most returnees are intercepted and immediately returned to their country of citizenship.

Conflating returns and removals is a technique first employed by the Obama Administration, in order to portray Barack Obama as “The Deporter-in-Chief.” Another deception tactic pioneered by the Faux-Deporter-in-Chief, and now being used by Biden is bumping up DHS arrest statistics by double counting apprehensions – once when CBP encounters an alien and again when CBP transfers that alien to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for long-term detention. Those tactics didn’t work then and you shouldn’t fall for them now. America needs both secure borders and a robust immigration enforcement system. But our current president is doing his best to avoid enforcing any of our immigration laws.

The fact is with about 5,000 miles of coastline; approximately 8,000 miles of land frontier; and 118 international airports – it is inevitable some people are going to make it over one of our international boundaries and remain in America illegally. Ultimately, secure borders mean nothing if everyone who manages to cross them gets to stay in the United States. So, while the southern border tends to attract the most media attention, interior immigration enforcement may, in the end, prove to be even more important than border management.

So, don’t believe the hype. Biden and Secretary Mayorkas haven’t gotten a “D” in border security while achieving a passing grade in interior enforcement. The reality is that they’re earning an “F” in all areas of immigration policy.

Tom Homan is a senior fellow at the Immigration Reform Law Institute and the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Matt O’Brien is the Director of Investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, and previously served as an Immigration Judge.

Also published at The Washington Times, May 31, 2023.

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