The presence of illegal immigrants in the United States continues to generate ineffectual political initiatives, from employment verification mandates to referendums against in-state tuition access.
These fail to resolve the underlying causes for the presence of illegals, such as the arbitrary (see the immigration lottery), expensive, and humiliating immigration process (and I speak from experience). They also tend to ignore what happens to the individuals caught in the bind — the supposed deportation process — as though they’ll just disappear from America.
Last month, however, the Center for Immigration Studies released a lengthy report, “Deportation Basics: How Immigration Enforcement Works (Or Doesn’t) in Real Life.” This report is particularly revealing because CIS scholars tend to oppose “current, high levels of immigration,” in favor of a “low-immigration, pro-immigrant” vision.
Despite the apparent low-immigration, pro-immigrant contradiction, CIS scholars deserve credit for at least addressing the touchy deportation subject. In doing so, they present the thinking of those who sincerely believe stricter enforcement of the prevailing laws is the way to go, and they are perhaps the most prominent organization with that perspective.
That perspective, though, is fraught with confusion and prejudices, and it begs for a rebuttal.
The author uses a pseudonym, “W.D. Reasoner,” which seems unnecessary, but he notes that he is a retired government employee with many years of experience in immigration administration. Presumably, that allowed him to observe what he admits is a cumbersome and dysfunctional process of deportation.
That description leads to his and CIS’s most important confusion. Despite the abject failure of federal officials to curb illegal immigration — about 11 million live here — even with multiple agencies on the job, he wants to divert more Justice Department resources to them. The call for expanded budgets goes to show how these agencies have an incentive to maintain the problem, not end it.
Reasoner notes at least 20 required forms to initiate an immigration charge, greater than one-year backlogs for hearings (which only 41 percent of defendants attend), and a scarcity of detention space. This fecklessness matches that of the E-Verify program, where even U.S. Customs and Immigration admits 54 percent of unauthorized workers receive approval for employment. Yet, he does not call for legislative changes, nor does he acknowledge that they are fighting a futile battle.
Reasoner also points to a “significant review and restructuring” of another agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This has been going on for nearly two years, and its claim to success is the cancellation of many contracts, but total spending has continued to climb.
Reflective of the entire report, the term “alien,” which legally refers to any non-citizen, appears throughout. Even jargon such as “alienage” arises — whatever that means. Offensive to many, “alien” dehumanizes immigrants and promotes a fallacious us-versus-them mentality that undergirds the report.
This collectivist mentality manifests itself with repeated calls for the dismissal of due process “trappings” in immigration disputes. Apparently, benefit of the doubt and presumption of innocence are less relevant when someone may be born outside of the country.
Additionally, the supposed adverse impacts of illegal immigrants on health and social service systems merit mention, while their cultural and economic contributions do not. Contrary to popular perception, illegal immigrants are not heavy users of welfare, and the majority pay income taxes. Cato Institute research also suggests that legal status would enable higher wages and greater tax contributions.
The irony is that what Reasoner describes as “thousands of productive hours” toward deportation are a waste of time, and they divert our attention from real problems. Already Puerto Ricans immigrate to and work in the United States without impediment. And any Cuban that arrives here receives permanent residence status within one year. Do we lose sleep at night over that reality?
Of course not; nor should we — just as we would not seek to impede someone moving from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. Far from being a plague, migration elevates human prosperity and helps to hold governments in check.
I remember a visit to Ellis Island, the place where so many people without documentation once found welcome in the United States. Sadly, millions of people now assume grave risks to immigrate illegally, and they testify to a legal route that no longer greets immigrants with open arms.
Fergus Hodgson is a policy advisor with The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org).