Multiple 2020 Democrats have voiced interest in or support for a freeze on deportation of illegal immigrants, a move that immigration expert Jessica Vaughn said would effectively put an end to border enforcement.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and former Obama administration official Julián Castro have all backed either suspending deportations or dismantling detention facilities for those caught crossing the border. In fiscal year 2019, a wave of unauthorized immigrants at the southwestern border led to what U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has called a "humanitarian crisis." Loosened enforcement would likely exacerbate this situation, according to Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
"A moratorium on deportations would cause chaos in the immigration system and prevent ICE from removing even the worst of the worst criminal aliens that are the bulk of its case load," Vaughn told the Washington Free Beacon. "The result is basically open borders."
Speaking Friday at a forum hosted by the Latino activist group Mijente, Warren said that she is "open to suspending deportations, particularly as a way to push Congress for comprehensive immigration reform." She added that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is "focusing on people who do not pose a threat" and does not "make this country safer."
Other 2020 Democrats have made similar proposals. In his immigration plan, Sanders promises to, on his first day in office, "put a moratorium on deportations until a thorough audit of current and past practices and policies is complete." Castro's plan did not call for a moratorium, but did propose to dismantle immigration detention and restructure ICE.
If implemented, such policies would allow tens of thousands of individuals with standing deportation orders to remain in the country. In fiscal year 2019 alone, immigration judges granted more than 186,000 deportation orders, nearly six times the number of orders they rejected. In fact, in 2019 ICE asked for the deportation of even more people—more than 440,000—contributing to the immigration court system's million-person backlog.
The result of halting deportations would be an immigration system asked to care for many more people than current detention centers can contain. A moratorium would force the administration to consider the release of even violent criminal offenders slated for deportation, according to Vaughn.
"The detention centers would quickly fill up, and ICE would have to start releasing some of these people, or Congress would have to provide additional funding for detention space," she said. "ICE would basically become a detention agency instead of a deportation agency, and that strikes me as something that Elizabeth Warren would not be in favor of, except these cases are so egregious because she couldn't really order them to be released either."
The "egregious" cases might include unauthorized criminal offenders apprehended by ICE. Such apprehensions usually follow an individual's arrest by local law enforcement and referral to federal officials. In fiscal year 2018, of the 256,000 illegal immigrants deported from the United States, 145,000—roughly 57 percent—were "convicted criminal illegal immigrants." Among the tens of thousands still awaiting deportation are criminals charged with drug trafficking, sex offenses, and weapons charges.
A deportation moratorium would also likely lead to an increase in illegal immigration, as would-be border crossers discover they could expect to be apprehended and then released into the United States, rather than being detained in already overflowing detention facilities. The resulting wave, Vaughn said, would likely dwarf the nearly one million people who attempted to cross the border illegally in the last fiscal year.
"It would set off levels of illegal immigration that would make the current border crisis look like a picnic," she said. "Word would get around so fast that there are no deportations that obviously everyone would take advantage of that."