Many unaware of enforcement level

Under President Bush, the U.S. has already deported more people than under any other president in U.S. history.

Since Bush took office, the U.S. has not deported fewer than 150,000
illegal immigrants a year and had deported an estimated 881,478 through
2005. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S.
deported 160,700 people in fiscal 2005. Of these, 52.5 percent were
criminal illegal immigrants.

Now Bush is poised to push a harder stance by bringing in National
Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. He is expected to
provide details during a prime-time address tonight.

News of the president’s plan comes as hard-line immigration
advocates push for better policing of the estimated 11 million illegal
immigrants in the United States. But longtime immigration experts and
former government officials say the public hasn’t been paying attention.

Lynn Ligon, a retired work-site investigator for the former U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the agency “has been
enforcing the laws all along.”

But a recent Zogby poll commissioned by the Center for Immigration
Studies found that 70 percent of respondents agree with the statement,
“Efforts in the past have been grossly inadequate and the government
has never really tried to enforce immigration laws.”

At its shrillest, the national hoopla — immigrants and critics shouting at each other in the streets “Si se puede!” and
“Secure the border, that’s an order!” — illustrates the no-win
situation that immigration enforcement officials have to deal with
every day.

“The public may want to see high-profile raids,” Ligon said, “so
they can say, ‘Boy, I’m not going to shop there,’ and then next week
they’re back again.”

High-profile is what the public got with the April 20 bust of IFCO
Systems North America, a Houston-based pallet-services company. Seven
managers and 1,187 illegal immigrants were arrested in 26 states.

Same with Operation Tarmac, which was launched in December 2001 and
netted more than 900 unauthorized workers at U.S. airports, including
62 at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in November 2002.

In both cases, the rhetoric was tough. The night of the IFCO bust,
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the government would
target the biggest offenders. Julie Myers, chief of Immigration and
Customs Enforcement, echoed the sentiment. Talk of an amnesty program,
long part of Bush’s proposed policy for handling illegal immigration,
subsided.

Immigrants, legal and illegal, interpreted the IFCO bust differently.

Rumors of random raids and widespread stings circulated, including
in Fort Worth. Students, mostly in rural areas, stayed home from
school. A rumor circulated that authorities were looking for single men
and people with criminal records.

Immigration officials expressed dismay at the reaction. “I’m
starting to sound like a broken record,” agency spokesman Carl Rusnok
said wearily after another day of trying to tell people that no random
raids were being carried out.

This is the fickle, schizophrenic history that immigration
enforcement officers deal with: wild swings between talk of amnesty
programs and mass deportations.

“Immigration [officials] won’t pick up kids coming out of school —
that is a no-no,” Ligon said. “They are not going to be following kids
home to see where they live.”

It’s not that the illegal immigrants aren’t there in plain sight.
Everybody knows. But these days — post-9-11 — the focus is on
stopping terrorists, not day laborers.

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