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Interior Enforcement and Immigration Reform

1. Introduction

The National Immigration Forum (the Forum) favors workable, cost-conscious approaches to enforcement of immigration laws in the interior of the nation. As part of a comprehensive package of immigration policy changes, workable interior enforcement methods can help ensure the safety of our communities, strengthen our national borders, encourage respect for the rule of law, build trust and cooperation within our communities, and assure that our immigration laws and practices are clear, consistent and workable. Notably, the bipartisan immigration reform bill the Senate passed in June 2013, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2013 (S.744), includes key reforms that would improve interior immigration enforcement, including strengthening E-Verify, expanding avenues for legal workers, increasing passport and visa security and providing steps for immigrants who lack documentation to come out of the shadows.

2. Punitive approaches do not work

In the midst of the debate over immigration reform, some have called for expensive and divisive approaches to interior enforcement,[1] singularly focused on deporting all immigrants illegally in the United States.[2] Experts have estimated that a mass-deportation policy directed at locating, detaining and deporting 11 million or more undocumented immigrants in the United States would cost the federal government $239 billion over five years.[3] In addition to splitting up tens of thousands of families, including many that include U.S. citizen children, this policy would devastate industries dependent on immigrant labor, reducing GDP by as much as $250 billion per year.[4]The costs of a mass-deportation policy — both moral and economic — are enormous and unacceptable.

Since 2009, through the appropriations process, Congress has mandated that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spend billions of dollars[5] maintaining 34,000 nightly detention beds.[6] In fiscal year 2013, ICE detained nearly 441,000 undocumented immigrants,[7] even though the overwhelming majority of them posed no danger to the community. At the same time, some federal proposals have sought to criminalize unlawful presence[8] — effectively equating those who enter unlawfully or overstay their visas with individuals who commit serious crimes — as well as broad harboring prohibitions that threaten to criminalize otherwise innocent behavior by legal residents and U.S. citizens. For example, under one bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2013, a U.S. citizen driving his undocumented mother to a doctor’s appointment or his undocumented sister to the store to buy baby formula would be violating federal law and subject to prosecution.[9]

In a handful of states and localities,[10] legislatures and administrative bodies have adopted laws to foist increased immigration enforcement responsibilities on state and local law enforcement, including requiring state and local law enforcement to check the immigration status of community members. These laws have been expensive and divisive failures, tearing apart mixed-status families, sparking protests and boycotts, and harming businesses. State and federal courts have repeatedly struck down such laws.[11]

3. Commonsense reforms are needed

The Forum is opposed to divisive and unworkable punitive approaches to enforcement, which dehumanize undocumented individuals while failing to address many aspects of our broken immigration system. Instead, the Forum favors addressing the problem holistically through comprehensive immigration reform, in the same vein as S.744. Specific to interior enforcement, comprehensive reform resembling S.744 could marshal additional resources, take steps to elevate respect in the rule of law — including strengthening E-Verify and establishing legal guest-worker programs, and increasing passport and visa security. S.744’s provisions establishing Registered Provisional Immigrant status with a pathway to earned citizenship also strengthens interior enforcement. By encouraging undocumented immigrants who already live and work in the United States to come out of the shadows, these provisions undercut incentives driving illegal work while undermining criminal entities who prey on the undocumented.

The Forum favors deprioritizing those who pose no security threat. By modifying the Secure Communities program and issuing clarifying guidance, federal immigration agencies can allow law enforcement to focus limited resources on true threats. Under this approach, federal immigration agencies can further intelligence-driven and risk-based policing without the need for military build-up along our borders or intrusive immigration enforcement in our communities.

Rather than requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to engage in additional immigration enforcement activities, the Forum favors systematic reforms to allow state and local law enforcement to focus their resources on true threats — dangerous criminals and criminal organizations. To the extent that state and local law enforcement play a role in immigration enforcement, the federal government must provide adequate funding in line with these enforcement responsibilities. If the federal government is looking to partner with state and local law enforcement on various immigration initiatives, including Secure Communities, immigration holds, or the 287(g) program, it has a responsibility to adequately fund such initiatives.

In addition to keeping the focus on criminal threats, the Forum favors reforming the legal immigration system. Such an approach prioritizes legality and accountability and helps restore respect for the rule of law. Whereas our current broken system incentivizes workers and employers to break the law, reforming the legal immigration system would go a long way toward undercutting illegal work and criminal activity. For instance, the absence of legal avenues for family members to be reunited with their loved ones in the U.S. drives immigrants into the hands of criminal organizations. Providing legal work authorization to immigrants who already live and work in the United States, and creating an avenue for those immigrants to come out of the shadows would be an important step in reducing crime that targets vulnerable immigrants. Reforming legal immigration would cut off the supply of migrants seeking out the help of dangerous criminal groups, starving them of needed revenue and promoting public safety on our borders.


[1] United We Dream, “The “So-Called” Safe Act: The Bad, The Worse, and The Ugly.” Retrieved from; “H.R. 2278, The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (The Safe Act): Hearing before the House Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 113th  Cong. 1 (2013) Retrieved from

[2] “The GOP’s Border Spectacle: The party melts down one more time over immigration.” Editorial. Wall Street Journal. 3 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from

[3] Vinek, Danny. “How Much Would It Cost to Deport All Undocumented Immigrants? Way, way more than anyone is willing to pay.” The New Republic. 8 July 2014. Retrieved from

[4] Dixon, Peter B. & Rimmer, Maureen T. “Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform.” The CATO Institute Center for Trade and Policy Studies. No. 40, 13 Aug. 2009. Retrieved from

[5] National Immigration Forum, “The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies.” August 2013. Retrieved from

[6] Selway, William & Newkirk, Margaret. “Congress Mandates Jail Beds for 34,000 Immigrants as Private Prisons Profit.” 24 Sept. 2013. Retrieved from

[7] Simanski, John F. “Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2013.” U.S. Department of Homeland Security. September 24. Retrieved from

[8] Avila, Jim. “House Committee Would Criminalize Being Undocumented.” ABC News. 19 June 2013. Retrieved from

[9] See, e.g., Hearing on H.R. 2278, Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act: Hearing before the House Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 113th Cong. 1 (2013) (testimony of Karen C. Tumlin).

[10][Arizona] Archibold, Randal C., “Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration.” New York Times. 23 April 2010. Retrieved from; [Georgia] Severon, Kim, “Immigrants Are Subject of Tough Bill in Georgia.” New York Times. 15 April 2011. Retrieved from; [Alabama] Summers, Elizabeth, “New Alabama Immigration Law Tougher Than Arizona’s SB-1070 Measure.” PBS Newshour. 10 June 2011. Retrieved from; [Hazelton, PA] Chishti, Muzaffar & Bergeron, Claire “Hazleton Immigration Ordinance That Began With a Bang  Goes Out With a Whimper.” Migration Policy Institute. 18 March 2014. Retrieved from

[11] See Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. ___ (2012).

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