Legislative efforts in immigration reform have died off since
the debate on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S.
1348), but for the past several years, the Bush Administration did
considerable work in advancing immigration reform outside the
legislative process. One such effort was to enhance internal
enforcement of immigration laws. The new emphasis on
enforcement has resulted in a noticeable increase in the detention
and deportation of illegal immigrants. However, enforcement still
faces several obstacles before all immigration laws are
successfully enforced. For improved enforcement to be an effective
component of immigration reform, the necessary resources must
be available to support a compassionate and responsible policy.
The Right Strategy for Reform. Immigration and workplace
enforcement are only one component that affects migration to
the United States. Establishing a robust and responsible
immigration system and repairing America's broken borders will
require serious effort across the entire immigration and border
security system. Reform needs to be incremental and designed to
deincentivize illegal immigration, while strengthening the capacity
of employers to hire the employees they need to help the economy
grow and prosper without jeopardizing the nation's security,
sovereignty, and social fabric. Effective change does not
require Congress to pass a massive, comprehensive bill. It could
simply consist of sustained incremental efforts, including:
- Safeguarding the southern borderto make illegal entry
into the United States less attractive than the legal avenues.
- Promoting economic development and good governance in
Latin America to provide potential illegal immigrants with
opportunities at home.
- Enhancing the legal worker programs to provide legal
avenues that meet the needs of employers and immigrants and are a
better option than illegal immigration.
- Reforming U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Servicesto handle legal immigration better.
- Enforcing immigration and workplace lawsto reduce the
economic incentives for illegal immigration and restore the
rule of law.
State and Local Initiative. The effort to reduce illegal
immigration has not come solely from the federal government, nor
should it. State and local interest in addressing illegal
immigration is evident from the large number of jurisdictions
applying for 287(g) partnerships and ICE ACCESS cooperation.
Lost in the debate is the ability of states and localities
to enact employment, housing, identification, and other non-law
enforcement measures to discourage illegal immigration in
their jurisdictions. A handful of states and localities have even
passed laws to apply pressure on illegal immigrants and the
businesses that employ them in their respective areas. Yet many
jurisdictions are hesitant to act because such actions provoke a
legal onslaught from pro-illegal immigrant groups, such as business
groups that want cheap labor and race-based groups that want more
Moving Forward on Internal Enforcement. Federal, state,
and local governments have made tremendous progress in enforcing
immigration laws. The Obama Administration should not allow the
situation to revert to the previous era of lax enforcement. It
should continue to improve internal enforcement to ensure efficacy
and compassion. Specifically, the Administration should:
- Improve detention and removal. The government needs
to continue to enforce immigration law and to completely end the
practice of "catch and release." The U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) needs to find innovative ways to move illegal
immigrants expeditiously through detention centers. Using
initiatives like Operation Scheduled Departure and expedited
removal could greatly increase the Office of Detention and
Removal's ability to process illegal immigrants.
- Foster greater cooperation with state and local
governments. ICE cooperation with state and local governmentsis
the only feasible way to successfully enforce immigration
laws. ICE ACCESS is an extremely popular program and should receive
the funding to meet the incoming partnership requests from
local jurisdictions. Greater cooperation also entails state and
local law enforcement communicating more with ICE to allow seamless
cooperation in detaining and removing illegal immigrants.
- Achieve comprehensive worker verification. Thiswill
require more than adopting E-Verify. Implementing Real ID and
sharing Social Security no-match data will reduce the ability of
illegal immigrants to commit identity theft and employers'
ability to reuse Social Security numbers fraudulently.
Conclusion. Successful reform of U.S. immigration
laws will require accountability by federal, state, and local
governments. Without enforcement, the illegal immigrant population
will continue to grow, and ICE and Border Patrol agents will find
it increasingly difficult to focus on real threats.
Diem Nguyen is a Research Assistant
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Matt A. Mayer is a Visiting
Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, President and Chief Executive
Officer of Provisum Strategies LLC, and an Adjunct Professor at
Ohio State University. He has served as Counselor to the Deputy
Secretary and Acting Executive Director for the Office of Grants
and Training in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Davis Institute and Senior
Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the
Allison Center at The Heritage Foundation.