Some unapproved DACA applicants are allowed to stay in the U.S. because of prosecutorial discretion, which allows officials to prioritize the deportation of violent criminals and repeat offenders over other undocumented immigrants.
Immigration advocates, the panelists said, distort statistics to make immigration reform proposals seem more appealing. They cited a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that said the government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement in the United States combined.
Vaughan alleged that the MPI report includes activities that are not related to immigration enforcement, such as customs screening, drug and weapons interdiction, and intellectual property violations.
But according to Michelle Mittelstadt, a spokeswoman for MPI, the report was clear about its methodology.
"First of all, we were completely transparent in this report as to what agencies were in our calculations," Mittelstadt said.
She added that there are significant immigration enforcement activities in other agencies that were not included, citing the State Department's consular services and the U.S. Coast Guard's interdiction activities as examples.
With immigration set to take center stage as President Obama begins his second term in the White House, the issue has already generated passionate reactions from lawmakers and immigration organizations on both sides of the aisle.
"I don't know of any subject today that Congress deals with that is more emotional," Smith said. "It absolutely impacts every aspect of every American's daily life."