Two papers recently published by the influential Heritage Foundation lay out a series of recommendations for lawmakers to take in response to a widely expected executive order from President Obama shielding potentially millions of undocumented people from deportation.
The organization is still recovering from a fiasco last year in which one of its senior policy analysts was found to have previously written a paper claiming Latinos in the US are and will likely remain less intelligent than “native whites.”
Now, they’re releasing what they call “practical, effective, fair and compassionate” solutions to the current immigration crisis—a plan that includes stepped up border enforcement by vigilante organizations and an explicit threat to deport anyone covered by a future executive order.
So what are some of the steps on their self-described “positive path”?
Give “accreditation” and state government funding to private citizens to “police border communities”
These private citizen groups, many of which have been designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have stepped up their activity in recent weeks.
Armed with semi-automatic weapons and wearing camouflage—according to their recruitment photos—they have vowed to “fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution.”
In response to this escalation, the US Border Patrol said in a statement that it “does not endorse or support any private group or organization taking matters into their own hands, as it could have potentially disastrous personal public safety consequences.”
The problem isn’t new. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “vigilante militias have been capturing, pistol-whipping and very possibly shooting Latin American immigrants” along the border since the 1990s.
In 2012, the leader of the “US Border Guard” militia in Arizona killed five people including a toddler.
“This information can be used against you”
Heritage’s August paper on immigration says Congress should answer any executive order on immigration with a resolution explicitly warning that not only can such an order be reversed at any time, but “any information gleaned from participants could be used in future deportation proceedings.”
This essentially puts undocumented people in a dangerous Catch 22—they can come out of the shadows and apply for relief from deportation, but it could make them more easily targeted by the government down the road.
But Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney based in Buffalo, New York, told ThinkProgress that such a resolution would be “completely superfluous” because that possibility already exists.
Under the rumored executive order, he said, “people would be voluntarily coming forward and admitting they are in the US without authorization, and giving all their information to the Department [of Homeland Security]. If at any point deferred action is discontinued, a future Administration or event the current Administration can use it at any time,” to put those people in removal proceedings.
Kolken emphasized that the same is true of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted work permits and protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.
“When the program was first announced, I had a number of clients with extreme reservations, and I didn’t want to be putting young people in the position of making themselves vulnerable to deportation proceedings,” he said.
Once Kolken and other attorneys saw that most DACA applicants were approved and were able to lead “more normal lives, he was able to help more clients participate in the program.
But he cautioned: “This is something the Obama Admin has extended and they can take it away at any time. And we have no idea who the next president is going to be. The presumed front-runner is Hillary Clinton, and she’s a deportation hawk.”