DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson seems to making an effort to reach out to critics of the administration's immigration policy from both sides.
Politico reports that Johnson met yesterday with representatives of anti-immigration groups, both prominent(Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA, FAIR) and less-prominent (Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum and the group "Progressives for Immigration Reform," which has close ties to FAIR).
The meeting might have just been a matter of optics. The last time the administration solicited public input on a change to immigration enforcement, it was during its blue-ribbon review of the Secure Communities program during Obama's first term. At the time, critics complained the Secure Communities review incorporated input from advocates who supported more lenient immigration enforcement, but not advocates who supported tougher enforcement.
Pro-enforcement administration critics don't often make complaints that are specific and accurate enough to address easily; the administration might just have been leaping at the rare opportunity to preempt a complaint about this review.
But assuming that Johnson is considering all input equally, what are pro-enforcement groups asking him for? Would it be possible for the review to honor their requests, while still giving immigrant-rights groups what they want? From the Politico article, it looks like there were two major asks in yesterday's meeting:
1) DHS should require state and local police departments to honor immigration detainers.
Detainers are the requests that ICE sends local law enforcement to ask them to hold suspected unauthorized immigrants after their release so ICE can come pick them up. After several years of agitation from immigrants-rights advocates, DHS finally clarified a couple of years ago that local cops didn't have to honor detainers. Since then, several cities have passed laws or instituted policies specifying cops should only hold immigrants at ICE's request if they're serious criminals, for example, or refused to honor detainers at all.
Pro-enforcement advocates call these "sanctuary cities" and accuse them of refusing to comply with federal immigration law. In the past, there have been calls for the administration to sue Cook County, Illinois (which passed the first and broadest anti-detainer policy) just like it sued Arizona, Alabama, and other states for their immigration laws. Since the administration has already clarified that honoring detainers is a choice, it's not clear how it could turn around and sue localities for choosing not to.
The ask at yesterday's meeting appears to have been a little more moderate. Mark Krikorian of CIS just said he wanted Johnson "condemning" anti-detainer policies more aggressively. That wouldn't be a change for DHS — Johnson's predecessor Janet Napolitano was happy to criticize Cook County's detainer policy whenever asked. But it's certainly something Johnson could do while rolling out changes to immigration enforcement that would, in practice, align with what immigrant-rights groups want.
2) DHS should preserve a "randomness factor" in immigration enforcement.
If the Politico readout is any indication, it sounds like pro-enforcement groups are shifting away from hammering on the assumption that anyone found to be unauthorized should obviously be deported, and toward this: it's important to preserve some "random deportations." Krikorian said this is the way "law enforcement works in any other area," implying that it's an important tool for deterrence and crime control.
Here's the thing, though: no criminologist would ever say that it's a good thing for law enforcement not to be able to catch every criminal. In fact, the opposite is true: research shows that certainty of punishment is the most important factor in deterring crime. The only reasons that law enforcement can't catch everyone who breaks the law is because they don't always know who did, and they don't always have the resources to catch them.
That was true of immigration enforcement too — until very recently. This is the central argument of the huge Migration Policy Institute report that came out a couple of weeks ago: we now have a "mature deportation system" that's capable of deporting at least 400,000 people a year, and of, in many cases, identifying whether someone's unauthorized within a matter of hours. No one would have thought this was possible twenty years ago, and policymakers never really stopped to reconsider the assumption that anyone who got caught should be deported now that orders of magnitude more people were getting caught. That's what the Obama administration's previous efforts at "prosecutorial discretion" were supposed to fix, and it's what this deportation review is supposed to do.
As recently as last month, CIS was pushing the "anyone who gets caught should be deported" angle. Their most recent study concluded that immigration agents weren't putting a large enough share of the immigrants they encountered into deportation proceedings. Now, they've pivoted to saying that it's enough that any share of immigrants who don't fit into administration priorities get deported. So either they're deliberately moderating their stance for DHS and Politico, or they've decided in the last month that the argument over whether everyone who can be deported should be deported is over — and they've lost it.