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Immigration Enforcement’s Moving Goalposts

July 28, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Goal post


There was a story in the Washington Post on July 26 that was yet another reminder of how one-sided the immigration debate has become.  Under the headline "Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration," the Post notes that the 400,000 persons expected to be deported this year is 10 percent above the Bush Administration's 2008 total.


More than half of those being deported are non-criminals, despite ICE's state focus on deporting criminal aliens. 


"The effort is part of President Obama's larger project 'to make our national laws actually work,' as he put it in a speech this month at American University. Partly designed to entice Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, the mission is proving difficult and politically perilous."


How successful has the focus on immigration enforcement been at "enticing Republicans to support" comprehensive reform?  A little later on in the story, there is this,


"Rep. Hal Rogers  (R-Ky.) … believes the administration is showing 'apathy toward robust immigration enforcement.' He said at a House hearing in March that the approach is nothing more than 'selective amnesty.'


Last month, the Center for American Progress published a report written by C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., who is the former DHS Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy.  The report compares enforcement "benchmarks" written into the failed 2007 immigration reform law with what has been accomplished since then.  These benchmarks were inserted at the insistence of Senators who were more concerned about immigration enforcement. 


As the report notes, the benchmarks have largely been met.  For example, by the end of this year, there will be 22,000 Border Patrol agents (2,000 more than the 2007 benchmark); construction of the specified physical barriers is nearly complete; millions of dollars in technology has been deployed—unmanned aerial surveillance planes, remote-controlled cameras, mobile surveillance systems, sensors, and other surveillance technology; the government has capacity to detain 33,400 immigrants (1,900 more than the benchmark set in 2007); there is increasing use of electronic worker verification (still by law a voluntary program for most businesses).  The list goes on.


The CAP report also notes other areas in which immigration enforcement has become more sophisticated in the last few years.  The US-VISIT program, for example, collects fingerprints from persons entering the U.S. at 2,600 air, sea, and land inspection lanes, allowing the government to run the fingerprints through government databases and preventing the entry of criminals and immigration violators.  A new program requires persons coming to the U.S. from visa waiver countries to submit personal information over a web-based system prior to departure in order to gain travel authorization. 


In the interior, the report notes that the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement has nearly doubled in the last five years.


Yet, for all the growth in immigration enforcement, immigration restrictionists demand more: hundreds of millions of dollars for border enforcement; thousands more Border Patrol agents; National Guard deployment on the border.  The goalposts are always moving.


The CAP report notes that,


"Some have argued that there should not be any consideration of [comprehensive immigration reform] until the southern border is secure because the drug war in Mexico has escalated and led to incidents of violence on the American side of the border.    The question for policymakers is what the best strategy is to minimize violence and illegal immigration.  The compelling need to fix our broken immigration system has only grown as enforcement has increased to robust levels."


For many of the immigrants who now cross illegally to take jobs we offer them, there is no legal option for entry. This drives them to enter illegally, and with enforcement tighter on the border, they are increasingly dependent on criminal enterprises to guide them across.  Those criminal enterprises are increasingly violent as they defend an increasingly lucrative business. 


Going forward, a strategy to minimize violence and illegal immigration will depend on a comprehensive overhaul of our laws.  A continuation of the same old enforcement-only strategies will not work to make the borders more secure.  They will also not work to gain political support for reform from individuals who are unalterably opposed to it.

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