There already exist on the books numerous laws that, if enforced
in a targeted manner, would discourage illegal immigration and the
employment of undocumented labor, as well as send the signal that
such activities will no longer be overlooked. Recent actions by the
Administration prove that reasonable enforcement measures (well
short of massive deportations) can reduce the number of illegal
border crossings. In addition, Congress can take a number of modest
actions that would strengthen enforcement, both at the border and
in the workplace.
None of these measures require the kind of comprehensive
legislation that was recently proposed in the Senate. The recently
revived Senate immigration reform bill, which would grant immediate
legal status to the 12 million or more people that are unlawfully
present in the United States, would work at cross purposes with
enforcement efforts: encouraging more illegal immigration;
overburdening federal agencies; and complicating the task of
upholding the rule of law.
Current Enforcement Efforts
Supporters of the Senate bill have propagated the myth that the
bill is necessary to enhance border security and enforce
immigration laws in the workplace. That claim is patently false.
Virtually all of the useful security provisions in the draft
legislation, including building barriers at the border and hiring
more border patrols, were authorized in previous legislation (like
the Secure Fence Act of 2006) and funded by Congress.
Indeed, the government is already using these tools. Formal
removals (in which a judge orders an alien to leave) jumped from
178,000 in 2001 to 232,000 in 2006-a 30 percent increase. Last
year, enforcement agents intercepted and turned back about 900,000
aliens attempting to cross the U.S-Mexico border. The Department of
Homeland Security has already ended the controversial policy of
"catch and release," whereby individuals arrested for immigration
violations were released on their own cognizance pending a removal
order from a judge. Individuals who frequently absconded after
being released are now being detained until deported.
The department has also stepped up enforcement against employers
that intentionally hire undocumented workers to gain an advantage
over their competitors or reap illegal profits by scuffing tax
laws. Additionally, more is being done to go after criminal aliens,
including gang members. Operation Community Shield, for example, is
a nationwide law enforcement initiative targeting violent criminal
street gangs. The program has resulted in the arrest of almost
5,000 criminals and the deportation of more than half of them.
Meanwhile, the department has been hiring and deploying border
agents as fast they can, as well as expanding bed space and
streamlining the detention and removal process to deport unlawfully
present individuals as fast as the law will allow. Thus, it is not
clear why the Senate bill is required at all.
No Need for Emergency Spending
The press is reporting that some Senators are proposing an
emergency supplemental spending bill for more enforcement and
border security. The move is little more than a political ploy to
win support for the moribund comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Congress and the Administration should reject supplemental spending
outright for several reasons.
First, it undermines fiscal responsibility. With the
president threatening to veto regular appropriations bills that go
over budget, it would make no sense for the Administration to
accept additional spending that was not offset by other cuts in
Second, it throws money at the problem with little
assurance that it will be spent efficiently or effectively. The
Administration has already stated that it has a plan and
appropriations to significantly increase border security and
enforcement over the next 18 months. It is difficult to imagine how
current government efforts could absorb significant additional
funds and allocate them effectively.
Third, the prospect of supplemental spending could
encourage Congress to accept the legislation proposed in the
Senate. In its current form, the Senate bill offers immediate legal
status to any individual unlawfully present in the United States.
Amnesty would have a two-way, crippling effect on border security
and immigration reform. First, dealing with the millions that would
enroll in the amnesty program will overwhelm federal agencies and
detract from enforcing the law and providing services to legitimate
immigration cases. Second, the offer of amnesty will spur more
illegal border crossings, further compromising border security and
Follow the Law
Rather than throwing more money at the problem, much can be done
under existing authority to secure the border, enforce the law, and
provide a powerful deterrent to future illegal migration. The
Administration should continue to do the following:
- Increase the number of border patrol agents. Implement
the Administration's goal of hiring 3,000 agents per year-a more
than five-fold increase in the numbers hired in previous years.
Contractors from the private sector can assist with many functions
including border patrol and detention and removal.
- Cooperate with state and local law enforcement.
Cooperative efforts should focus on enhancing border security and
dealing with the criminal alien population. Such efforts include
expanding Border Enhancement Security Task Forces; supporting state
operations similar to "Operation Linebacker" conducted in Texas;
providing homeland security grants to assist community policing in
border communities; and participating in the 287(G) program which
coordinates cooperation between federal, state, and local law
enforcement on immigration matters.
- Deploy technology and obstacles along the border where they
make sense. The Department of Homeland Security should
implement its border security plans, which include increased
intelligence sharing, expanding its capabilities along the border
through its SBI Net program, and placing obstacles where they prove
efficient and effective.
- Target enforcement on specific sectors of the economy.
These include sectors where undocumented workers are the most
prevalent and where businesses intentionally hire illegal workers
as part of a plan to undercut competitors and reap illegal profits.
This can be done using existing legal authority.
These measures will not remove every unlawful present person from
the United States, nor will they seal the border. They will,
however, enable the government to gain control of its southern
border, facilitate serious workplace enforcement, and serve as a
deterrent against future illegal migration.
Enforcing current law and establishing a balanced and
well-designed temporary worker program-one that allows for a
market-driven source of labor provided by a rotating temporary
workforce-would diminish the incentives for illegal immigration by
providing an additional option for legal entry and, in combination
with other reforms, gradually reduce the population of illegal
aliens. This strategy would better foster national security and
serve a growing economy.
James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research
Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage