Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant, killed two California policemen in 2014. Bracamontes was a thoroughgoing bad guy, a drug dealer who had twice been deported from the United States. His second deportation was facilitated by Joe Arpaio, then the loudmouthed Republican sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona. President Donald Trump used Bracamontes to rally his base. “Democrats let [Bracamontes] into the country,” and “Democrats let him stay here.” Even Fox News, after running a midterm campaign ad featuring footage of Bracamontes, was shamed into dropping it.
The immigration debate is tangled with ironies. For one thing, despite Trump’s fulminations, the king of deportations was Barack Obama. During his first term, Obama was mostly focused on health care, but in his second term he tried to make quiet arrangements with Republicans. He struck a deal with them that involved a major upgrade of the government’s two immigration enforcement arms—the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), whose writ goes just to the border, and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which tracks down undocumented immigrants already in the country. The new hardware and staffing also allowed for a sharp escalation in both agencies’ tactics.
Obama was by no means anti-immigration. In general, he thought that adding working families strengthened the country. But his primary objective was to protect the “Dreamers”—about eight hundred thousand young people who had been brought to the country as children by undocumented parents and had grown up here. Legislation for the Dreamers was first introduced during the George W. Bush administration, with strong support on both sides of the aisle. To qualify, the Dreamers had to be at least eighteen, and they had to have entered the country before they turned sixteen and resided in the United States for at least four consecutive years. They also had to have graduated from high school or passed a GED, joined the military, or enrolled in a higher-education program.