When Barack Obama took office after his 2008 election, he inherited a budding deportation apparatus with its roots in the imagination of the “War on Terror” reactionaries who created the Office of Homeland Security in 2001 (later the Department of Homeland Security). When he leaves office he will leave behind to his successor the most sophisticated and well-funded human-expulsion machine in the history of the country.
In his first two years, newly appointed Director of the Office of Homeland Security Tom Ridge expanded the purview of his department to include an immigration enforcement plan that sought to achieve a “100% removal rate” of the undocumented population in the United States by seeing to the drafting of a document that came to shape the next 15 years, “ENDGAME Office of Detention and Removal Strategic Plan.” At the time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (later broken up into the Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection) had approximately 26,000 agents and $4.9 billion. It was an enormous leap from when ICE was previously housed within Department of Justice but nothing like what it grew to be today.
Instead of reversing that architecture and disavowing that plan, President Obama turbocharged it. To pay for the ballooning enforcement-first approach, the budget for immigration enforcement grew 300 percent from the resources given at the time of its founding under Bush to $18 billion annually, more than all other federal law-enforcement agencies’ budget combined.
Before the end of his first term in office, the Obama administration had taken a small program developed in George W. Bush’s last days that aimed to turn local police into “force multipliers” and expanded it by about 3,600 percent. The Secure Communities program that DHS Secretary Jeh Charles Johnson described as causing “hostility to enforcement of immigration laws” existed in only 14 counties under Bush, but by the end of 2009 it spread to 88 counties. By 2013, it was active in all 3,181 US jurisdictions. It was eventually scrapped in 2014 and replaced with a rebranded Priority Enforcement Program.
As record numbers of people were being deported, an increasing number were also charged and channeled into federal prison before their expulsion. Within two years of coming into office, President Obama doubled the number of people being prosecuted for reentry by expanding Bush’s border-court system, Operation Streamline, which tries up to 70 people per day in a cattle line of sentences. The experiment went from three jurisdictions in 2008 to every single border sector except California by 2010. From the time of its invention in 2005 to just four years later in 2009, Streamline sent over 209,000 individuals to serve federal prison sentences for no reason other than crossing the border.