Posted on August 6, 2014

Timeline: Border Surge Began a Few Months After Obama’s First Executive Action on Immigration

John Sexton, Breitbart, August 5, 2014

President Obama’s executive actions on immigration did not begin with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in mid-2012. It began in 2011 with his announcement of “prosecutorial discretion” on deportations. A few months later the border patrol noted the first uptick in unaccompanied children at the border.

There has been an ongoing argument in the public sphere over whether or not President Obama’s executive action known as DACA is responsible for the current surge of unaccompanied children at the border. GOP members have claimed it is a contributing factor and some note that the June 15, 2012 announcement seems to coincide with the sharpest uptick in children arriving from Central America.

Progressives looking to dismiss this claim have pointed out that the first indications of a surge in the number of children took place in FY2012. Fiscal Year 2012 included the last part of 2011 as well as the first half of 2012, i.e. about eight months before DACA even existed. This, they claim, proves the problem could not have been caused by DACA. {snip}


A year earlier in June 2011, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released the so-called Morton memos. The Morton memos were internal ICE memos which spelled out an expansion of “prosecutorial discretion” for certain individuals who might otherwise be facing deportation. This was one of the solutions to bypass Congress which progressive groups had recommended earlier in 2011.

In August, the White House announced it would expand the use of prosecutorial discretion as outlined in the Morton Memos and review all current cases with an eye to separating high priority and low priority deportations. {snip}


During the summer and fall of 2011 the promise of “prosecutorial discretion” made big waves in immigrant communities. In fact, almost immediately there was concern that disreputable people were spreading false information about what “prosecutorial discretion” would mean. On August 20, 2011, two days after the White House announcement, the American Immigration Lawyers Association issued a warning (in English and Spanish) titled “Consumer Advisory Do Not Be Misled.” The advisory reads:

Do NOT believe anyone who tells you they can sign you up for a work permit (Employment Authorization Document or “EAD”) or get you legal status based on the Secretary Napolitano’s August 18, 2011 announcement! Anyone who says that is not to be trusted!


In January 2012, California immigration attorney Shah Peerally published a video saying, “This is something that we have been seeing a lot on our radio show. There was a new memo that came out from DHS, Department of Homeland Security, which gives what we call a new prosecutorial discretion . . . however some people have taken advantage of that and are claiming now that this is an amnesty.” {snip}

Word of the new DHS rules also spread to regular people concerned about their immigration status. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez held a townhall event in October 2011 to describe the importance of the new prosecutorial discretion. Speaking alternately in Spanish and English Gutiérrez described it as, “a new tool, it’s a new instrument and we should learn how to use it.” Gutiérrez offered an example of how he believed the new rules would be applied:

“There are 300,000 people in a process of deportation right now and they all have to get reviewed. And you have to review all of those cases using new criteria . . . What the federal government has said is that if you’re a young–if you came here when you were 3, 2, 4, as a young child and you’re an adult now and you’re under a process of deportation, the federal government will cancel your deportation . . . Everybody always claps, all I have to do is mention two words, Dream Act. Right? Everybody claps. Well guess what. If you’re Dream Act eligible under the new criteria they must cancel your deportation.”

Gutiérrez went on to say that the new rules were not a new amnesty but he certainly left the impression that “prosecutorial discretion” was a significant change and that many people’s deportations would be cancelled as a result.

Gutiérrez was also right that the 2011 shift represented a first step toward a kind of Dream Act accomplished without Congress. The White House’s executive actions on immigration are best seen as a series of changes that built upon one another toward this goal. First the Morton memos in June 2011 introduced new prosecutorial discretion to close cases on non-violent immigrants. Then in August the White House used the memos to announce a review of all pending cases under the new guidelines. Finally in June 2012 the White House announced DACA, a more formal process to defer deportation and help people gain work permits.