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Sarah Palin: Impeach Obama over immigration

Sarah Palin wants President Obama impeached over immigration policy, but it's hard to tell exactly what policy she's objecting to.
Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin speaks in Sevierville, Tenn. on June 26, 2014.

Sarah Palin is demanding Congress remove President Obama from office over his immigration policy.

“It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment,” the former Alaska governor wrote in an op-ed Tuesday for Breitbart.

Palin’s actual list of alleged immigration offenses is vague and incoherent and mostly rest on a mélange of cultural and economic anxieties about immigration rather than any specific policy.

In one sentence, Palin warns that immigrants “will kick off their shoes and come on in, competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services,” merging contradictory stereotypes that immigrants are both lazy moochers and willing to do tough jobs for a pittance.

The only concrete data point Palin cites in her entire piece to support her call for impeachment charges is a Breitbart blog post linking to a local news story in which a border patrol agent complains some staff are being pulled off the border in order to process the recent surge of Central American migrants. The implication seems to be that Obama is purposefully diverting agents to process new detainees in order to free up smuggling routes for new undocumented immigrants.

“Without borders, there is no nation. Obama knows this. Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate. This is his fundamental transformation of America,” Palin added. 

Let’s unpack that argument. For one thing, the very reason border patrol agents are processing Central American migrants is that border agents caught them in the first place. One would think the more efficient approach to this implied scheme to let migrants cross the border undetected would be to let migrants cross the border undetected in the first place.

As the story Palin cited suggests, border agents are indeed stretched thin as officials handle the recent surge in unaccompanied children from Central America at the border. But much of this strain is due to a unanimously passed George W. Bush-era law requiring such minors go through more elaborate removal proceedings than adult migrants or Mexican nationals. Some who are fleeing violence might also be eligible for asylum under laws that long predate the current administration, thus requiring more time to investigate their claims.

If Obama were merely seizing on the crisis to shift agents from the border in order to usher in a new wave of illegal immigration he’s also doing a terrible job following through on his plan. The White House just asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds in order to add more immigration judges to speed up removal hearings, expand detention facilities for migrants awaiting their court appearances and, yes, add more border patrol agents, too.

What’s especially odd about Palin’s impeachment op-ed is that it's so far removed from the most heated legal debates between border hawks and immigration activists under Obama. 

The least controversial part of Obama’s record has been the border itself. The number of border patrol agents has remained at record highs and would have roughly doubled if the Senate's immigration bill, which Obama supported, had become law. The administration has also helped implement tougher legal penalties for the migrants they do catch crossing into the country.

Nor have these agents been ineffective in their task. The estimated undocumented population in America has fallen from its peak and leveled off after surging under former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Much of this drop off is due to the lagging economy, and it’s possible recent Central American migrants will push the numbers up again. But if Obama’s goal is, as Palin puts it, a “fundamental transformation of America” via border crossings, then he’s done a poor job so far.

The far more controversial aspect of Obama’s record has been the way his administration enforces immigration law within the nation’s borders. In recent years, the administration ordered agents to put a higher priority on deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal records and allowed young undocumented immigrants raised in the United States to apply for temporary protection through its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Deportation numbers are starting to go down now, and it’s likely these moves are a factor. Even with these changes, immigrant rights groups have denounced Obama as “deporter-in-chief” and the White House is considering altering its policies even further to address their concerns.

Republicans overwhelmingly oppose any action to lessen deportations. Many have argued this month that Obama’s decision not to deport young immigrants encouraged the current wave of Central American minors, who are not eligible for DACA, by creating confusion about enforcement policies. While there’s little to link DACA specifically to the current crisis and plenty of evidence that regional violence is the main motivator, the White House has acknowledged that migrants are partly motivated by false rumors that they will receive permission to stay in the country once they present themselves at the border. Republicans have also argued that, regardless of its merits, DACA was unconstitutional and it's possible Speaker John Boehner will include this grievance in a lawsuit against the White House over executive actions. 

Palin’s op-ed doesn’t mention this debate at all. Instead, she focuses on a generic list of cultural and economic fears attached to illegal immigration in general. For example: 

“Many now feel like strangers in their own land. It’s the American worker who is forced to deal with Obama’s latest crisis with our hard-earned tax dollars while middle class wages decrease, sustainable jobs get more scarce, and communities become unrecognizable and bankrupted due to Obama’s flood of illegal immigration.”

This is familiar and disputed territory. Studies are mixed on how immigration impacts wages, with some suggesting it can have a mildly depressing effect for some low-skilled workers. As for “hard-earned tax dollars,” the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the Senate bill Obama championed would cut deficits by $200 billion in the next decade and as much as $1 trillion in the decade after that.

All of this is, however, is part of a general debate over the value of immigration that has gone on for decades. Palin’s op-ed is a very specific call for impeachment that fails to name any identifiable decisions Obama has made that even impact immigration, let alone merit his forced removal.