Immigration Enforcement without Immigration Reform Doesn’t Work
This week, the Senate will consider amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would add thousands of additional personnel along the border (including the National Guard), as well as provide millions of dollars for detention beds, technology, and resources. Yesterday, bowing to pressure, President Obama announced that he would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and request $500 million for additional resources. All of this attention on resources for the border ignores the fact that border enforcement alone is not going to resolve the underlying problems with our broken immigration system.
UPDATED 05/26/10 - Arizona’s controversial new immigration law (SB 1070) is the latest in a long line of efforts to regulate immigration at the state level. While the Grand Canyon State’s foray into immigration law is one of the most extreme and punitive, other states have also attempted to enforce federal law through state-specific measures and sanctions. Oklahoma and Georgia have passed measures, with mixed constitutional results, aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration through state enforcement. Legislators in 45 states introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions[i] in the first quarter of 2010 alone, compared to 570 in all of 2006. Not all state legislation relating to immigration is punitive—much of it falls within traditional state jurisdiction, such as legislation that attempts to improve high school graduation rates among immigrants or funds. The leap into federal enforcement, however, represents a disturbing trend fueled by the lack of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
On April 29, 2010, Democratic Senators Schumer, Reid, Menendez, Feinstein, and Leahy unveiled a proposed outline for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The “conceptual framework” offers a broad platform for re-inventing our immigration system and attempts to find a middle ground that may appeal to more conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Consequently, details are noticeably lacking in many areas of the proposal. Nonetheless, the underlying concept reflects a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform which attempts to balance traditional enforcement priorities with the creation of legal means for entering and working in the United States. Read more...
Supporters of Arizona’s harsh new immigration law claim that it is, in part, a crime-fighting measure. For instance, the bill’s author, Republican State Senator Russell Pearce of Mesa, confidently predicts that the law—which requires police to investigate the immigration status of anyone who appears to be unauthorized—will result in “less crime” and “safer neighborhoods.” However, Sen. Pearce overlooks two salient points: crime rates have already been falling in Arizona for years despite the presence of unauthorized immigrants, and a century’s worth of research has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. While much has been made about kidnappings in Arizona, law-enforcement officials indicate that most of these involve drug smugglers and human smugglers, as well as smuggled immigrants themselves—not the general population of the state. Combating crime related to human smuggling requires more trust between immigrants and the police, not less. Yet the undermining of trust between police and the community is precisely what Arizona’s new law accomplishes. In the final analysis, immigration policy is not an effective means of addressing crime because the vast majority of immigrants are not criminals.
Many people believe that only illegal immigrants are deported. However, thousands of long-term legal immigrants are deported each year. While some are deported for committing serious crimes, many more are deported for committing minor, nonviolent crimes, and judges have no discretion to allow them to stay in the U.S.—even if they have U.S. citizen children.
The Secure Border Initiative (SBI), launched by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2005, is a cautionary tale of the dangers inherent in seeking a technological quick fix to the problem of unauthorized immigration. SBI calls not only for fencing the U.S.-Mexico border in the literal sense, but constructing a “virtual fence” as well. Since physical fencing can be climbed over, broken through, or dug under, it is complemented in SBI by a system of cameras and sensors—known as “SBInet”—that will, in theory, alert the Border Patrol whenever an unauthorized border crossing occurs.
The Costs of Enforcement-Only and the Benefits of Comprehensive Reform
Tax Day is an appropriate time to take stock of a few fiscal bottom lines about immigration enforcement and immigration reform. The federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars every year on border and interior enforcement measures intended to deter unauthorized immigration. While these efforts have failed to solve the problem of unauthorized immigration, they have had a negative impact on American families, communities, and the economy. Were the United States to adopt a different approach by implementing comprehensive immigration reform, the legalization of currently unauthorized immigrants alone would generate billions of dollars in additional tax revenue as their wages and tax contributions increase over time.
Since 2004, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has greatly expanded its partnerships with local police through the 287(g) program. As of March 2010, more than 1,075 local officers have been trained and certified through the program under the 67 active Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) in 24 states. However, while the number of MOAs has increased, the numerous problems surrounding them have also become more apparent. Recent reports have found that 287(g) agreements are costing localities millions to implement while ICE provides little oversight and support to the program. Additionally, crime-solving activities are being compromised, the trust between police and community is eroding, and accusations of racial profiling and civil rights violations are on the rise. Furthermore 287 (g) agreements are being used as political tools that interfere with the kind of true community policing that protect and serve our communities.
Every 10 years, as required by the U.S. Constitution, the federal government undertakes a massive nationwide effort to count the residents of the United States, who now number more than 300 million. The results form the basis for the apportionment of congressional districts and the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds, as well as serving to guide a wide range of community-planning decisions across the country.DD The Census is, however, no stranger to controversy, such as the suggestion by some activists that immigrants sit out the Census this year to protest the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.DD Yet, among demographic groups like immigrants and ethnic minorities who are typically under-counted in the Census, a boycott would be self-defeating. Moreover, anyone living in an area afflicted by a large under-count of any sort stands to lose out on political representation and federal funds.DD For instance, an undercount of Latino immigrants would impact anyone living in a state such as California, New York, or Illinois that has a large population of Latino immigrants—meaning that everyone in those states stands to lose political representation and access to economic and educational opportunities if their residents aren’t fully counted in 2010.