President Obama's executive action on immigration offers much needed temporary relief for millions of undocumented immigrants who live in daily fear of deportation. Mr. Obama's order immediately shifts immigration enforcement agents and resources from the apartment complexes and streets of our country's interior to the Northern and Southern border where those officers rightly belong.
This shift of priorities and resources is a welcome change, but it also highlights the array of challenges we face with a broken, outdated immigration system. Namely, how to balance an increasingly militarized border against our historic identity as a nation of immigrants. Unfortunately, our national ideals are coming out on the losing end.
In 1992, there were 3,555 agents assigned to our southern border. Twenty years later border agents number more than 21,000. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now the second largest criminal investigative agency in the U.S. government--second only to the FBI. We spent $2.4 billion between 2006 and 2009 to complete 670 miles of high tech border fence with upkeep costs of an additional $6.5 billion over 20 years. Customs and Border Protection maintains a fleet of ten unmanned drones, each capable of 20 hour missions: they flew 700 such missions between 2010 and 2012. The price to fly a drone: 3,200 dollars per hour.
In 2005, the U.S. government implemented Operation Streamline. This policy pushes unauthorized border crossers through federal court at the rate of up to 70 per day, sending 8 individuals in front of the judge at one time. This program allows for the deportation of more than 200,000 crossers per year. "Streamline" offers each detainee a deal to either plead guilty to illegally entering the country and receive up to 180 days in jail or plead not guilty and face between 2 and 20 years. When faced with having to make such a decision, typically in less than 30 minutes, most choose a guilty plea and are deported despite potentially having valid claims for asylum. Also, the lightning speed of the system rarely allows for a substantive review of each individual's circumstances.
This assembly-line-like judicial processing is all the more troubling when considering those who arrive at our border. In the past year, our southern border saw an influx of children and women seeking refuge in the United States. Most of these refugees are fleeing Central America, where countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are on the brink of "failed state" status.
For example, Honduras has been dealing with a growing street gang and organized crime crisis since the early 2000s. The government has demonstrated indifference and fecklessness to these challenges, which are exacerbated by high levels of poverty and unemployment, and an education system that is a systemic failure. Women and children have suffered tremendously. Between 2005-2012, violent deaths of women have increased 246% while mostly non-existent protections have diminished significantly: A 2006 UN High Commission for Refugees report found that of the 6,628 domestic violence abuse cases brought by women, only 204 were successfully adjudicated.
In 2009, Honduras suffered a dramatic coup d'état when the military removed President Mel Zelaya, due to his leftist leanings. In the weeks that followed, thousands of Hondurans took to the street in unprecedented protests. After violent repression of these protests and an election that returned a right-wing government to power, retribution was exacted against the leaders of the protests--many of whom were women.
Failed and indifferent governments, like the one in Honduras, exacerbated a recent refugee crisis, as unaccompanied minors and women arrived to our southern border this past summer. We responded by amping up Operation Streamline and using the tools of our militarized borders to quickly detain and deport these individuals without due regard to the conditions from which they flee and without regard to the ideals our nation represents.
Thus, while President Obama's executive action is welcome, temporary relief, it also further increases the speed with which we deport those detained at our border. We are a long ways from fixing our broken immigration system if our only cause for celebration is relief from deportation in the interior of the nation, while we feed the deportation machine at the border. We hope that this new Congress will consider why people come to our border in concert with the principles represented by our nation when--if ever--they take up immigration reform.