Mayor: U.S. Immigration Policy Is 'Schizophrenic'

Obama's 'deferred action' is not enough to address the trust problem in undocumented community.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano at the House of Representatives at the state Capitol in Hartford, Conn., in 2008.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano at the House of Representatives at the state Capitol in Hartford, Conn.

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To understand just how confusing current national immigration policy is, just ask the mayor of New Haven, Conn.

He says the "schizophrenic approach" from the Department of Homeland Security has lead to confusion and apprehension among undocumented residents even as federal officials trumpet the Obama administration's new deferred action memorandum aimed at helping young, productive people stay in the United States.

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"The issue is just exactly the point of a traffic stop, frankly that accelerates into something crazy," New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said in an immigration session with federal officials Thursday during the winter Conference of Mayors.

"The challenge is [the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] affirmatively contributes to this problem by arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement of its own so-called standards and it just happens time and again," he said.

Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said his office promotes trust within the undocumented community and is separate from ICE, which leads enforcement.

But as he touted the work he has done to help build ties with immigrant communities, particularly in light of President Barack Obama's decision to defer deportation of children of illegal immigrants who go to school or join the military, and are law-abiding citizens, DeStefano couldn't help but question the overall program.

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"How do you build trust when you are deporting their parents for traffic stops? I just think your policies, Homeland Security policies, are working at cross purposes and sending very mixed signals," he said.

Mayorkos acknowledged the difficulties facing both the undocumented community and local officials coping with them, but defended the effectiveness of the deferred action program.

"What we've done, quite frankly, is administer a program that has now seen 400,000 kids apply, over 150,000 thus far get their work authorization; so it's working," he said. "The challenge that you articulate is indeed a challenge that we confront and it's one of the things we have to give great thought to when in fact comprehensive immigration reform passes and people understand the pathways ahead of them."

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Despite the recent deportation reprieve granted to some, the Obama administration has had a reputation for strict illegal immigration enforcement, already having deported more people than the Bush administration.

DeStefano told U.S. News following the event that while he remains hopeful comprehensive reform will eventually pass, he's more concerned with the current status quo and criticized federal officials' actions.

"In the rush to say we're going to have immigration reform, we're all going to be living under the existing system for some period of time it would seem to me, and I just don't feel a lot of warmth from Homeland Security about actually dealing with this issue," he said. "I didn't want to bother arguing with them anymore, but [they're] suggesting that through the deferments you are building trust when in reality every time you deport someone for what ends up being a traffic violation, you send a very different message to the community and believe me it resonates through the whole community. People get it."

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When Mayorkas was asked by the mayors what they could expect in a White House immigration reform proposal, he demurred, saying it's unclear whether the Obama administration or Congress would be taking the lead, and whether a comprehensive approach would be attempted or a piecemeal effort.

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