Many immigration advocates are arguing that if more immigration enforcement is needed in order to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill with Republican support, so be it. Besides isn't enforcement an important part of immigration policy too?
After all, we can't just give 11 million people "amnesty" without taking steps to ensure that we don't attract another 11 million "illegals" (not to mention millions more of their "anchor babies") in short order. Let's not make the mistake we did with the Reagan amnesty when we handed out green cards to 2 or 3 million law-breakers only to let in millions more. America is a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws. So the argument runs.
But how much of this is serious argument, and how much is just anti-immigrant, and especially anti-Mexican, propaganda and sloganeering, of the type that has blocked immigration reform up until now and which led the Republican party to engage in a form of political self-immolation last November when 71 per cent of Latino votes went to the Democrats?
What is the real motivation for the Republican insistence on more "border security" and "internal enforcement" as the price for agreeing to some form of legalization, albeit "provisional" or "probationary", for up to 11 million unauthorized immigrants? How much more border security and internat enforcement do we need? How much more enforcement can our immigration system withstand without becoming even more dysfunctional than it already is?
In this regard, there are two mind-boggling statistics that stand out. First, we have already spent $18 billion in 2012 alone on beefing up the Mexican border and other enforcement measures (AP, January 7) How much will even more drones and border fences, or even bigger immigration prisons, accomplish? Besides, there has already been a big reduction in the number of people apprehended at the Mexican border.
Reducing the number of people coming across the border to zero is an absolute impossibility. Therefore the Republican Senators' idea of a "commission" to "recommend" that security arrangements along the border are "complete" is nothing but a red herring. They can never be "complete". And who would head this commission? Herman Cain?
The other, even more mind-boggling, statistic is that President Obama is on his way to having deported 2 million people over the course of his administration by 2014 (Huffington Post, January 31). This is about the same as the total number of people deported in the more than a century between 1892 and 1997, also according to the Huffington Post. A quarter of the people President Obama has deported were reportedly the parents of US citizen children.
The administration claims that many of the people deported were criminals, but most of these were people involved in minor crimes. I can give an example from my own practice. Only a few years ago, one of my clients, who was here with a valid visa and had never been out of status, became involved in a foolish incident that earned her a misdemeanor conviction and a $100 fine, plus probation. No jail sentence was even considered.
On the day she appeared in court to plead guilty and pay her $100 fine, two ICE agents were waiting in the courtroom to take her into custody even though she had already bought a ticket to go back to her country the following day, since her conviction technically amounted to an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law.
After a month in immigration jail, she was deported, with two lucky ICE agents accompanying her on the plane back to her country, which happens to be a prime (and expensive) destination for US visitors. All this was paid for by American taxpayers. This is the kind of "enforcement" that has been "protecting" America from "illegals" under this administration.
Since there are logistical limits to the number of fences we can build, prisons we can expand, and people we can kick out every year, the focus for enforcement is now switching to "internal enforcement", i.e., more regulations, "compliance" investigations and fines harassing and intimidating employers who hire foreign workers, even ones with the right documents. *It also means more hunting down people who have overstayed their visas.
Is it worth turning America into a police state in order to pass an immigration reform bill? And how much "reform" would we actually get for caving into immigration opponents whose real goal is only to delay the inevitable demographic change that lies at the heart of the immigration issue as long as possible? To be continued.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.