National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Would Answering Demands for More Enforcement Allow Us to Move on Immigration Reform?

August 03, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



There has been a developing strain of argument in the immigration debate, recently expounded by Edward Schumacher-Matos in a Washington Post Op-Ed, that goes like this, "If Obama would just accede to the demands of politicians calling for more National Guard, Border Patrol, etc. on the border, we could move on to consider reforming our immigration system." 


The problem with this argument is that it assumes that politicians who are calling for more enforcement sincerely think that more enforcement is needed.  In reality, politicians who are telling us that the Obama Administration  doesn't have the "cojones" to enforce immigration laws are doing so because they are trying to stir up voters in advance of the November elections.  Giving these politicians what they want now is not going to stop their demands.  They will just create new ones. 


It's happened before.  As we wrote about here and here, a series of enforcement "benchmarks" were set in the 2007 immigration reform legislation.  Those "benchmarks" have largely been met, and more enforcement resources have been deployed that were not contemplated at the time.  Still, politicians who are opposed to actually fixing our broken immigration system call for more enforcement.  They have moved the goalposts, and they will move them again.


All the proposals for more enforcement—such as the McCain/Kyl "10 Point Plan"—come in the context of record enforcement that is already taking place—in the interior and on the border. 


On the Southwest border, apprehensions of persons illegally crossing the border—a measure of the total number of people trying to cross illegally—decreased 23 percent from 2008 to 2009, continuing a trend that has resulted in a 53 percent drop since 2004. 


The rhetoric about illegal immigration being out of control and leading to crime and other problems is loudest in Arizona, despite the fact that crime in that state has been dropping for years.  You wouldn't know that from listening to (among others), Arizona Senator John McCain and Governor Jan Brewer, both of whom are running for re-election and are facing (or have faced) immigration hardliners running against them in the primaries. 


The statistics on crime and border apprehensions are not classified.  They are as available to these politicians as they are to me.  So are stories in the press that contain interviews with law enforcement officers in border communities who maintain that their communities are as safe as they've ever been.


However, despite the unprecedented resources already deployed on the border, the Obama Administration is sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border beginning this week, and the administration has asked Congress for an additional $500 million    in emergency funds for "enhanced border security" and law enforcement.  This is all beginning to feel more like the public financing of the campaigns of politicians who are running against immigration hardliners.  It may provide only redundant enforcement. 


Instead of agreeing to the demands of politicians who will always call for more enforcement, the Administration should talk more about what it has done, as it did in this press release from the Department of Homeland Security on "Southwest Border Next Steps."  The public is constantly being bombarded by assertions that the border is out of control from politicians and some elements of the media who want to paint that picture.  The Administration should do a better job of explaining what has been done and why we need reform.  It should not throw additional resources at a problem when those additional resources cannot be justified.


The immigration laws are broken, and it is Congress' job to fix them.  Without immigration reform, the extra spending on the border is not going to do much.  As DHS Secretary Napolitano has said about securing the border and enforcing the law, "to do this job as effectively as possible, DHS needs immigration reform."


Image: iStockphoto/jlsohio

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