A new report released this month deals a significant blow to conservative voices in Congress that are calling for toughened border security and stepped up enforcement as as the Obama Administration confirms that immigration reform is a priority for the year.
In Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of Formidable Machinery, the Migration Policy Institute documents the dramatic increase in federal resources devoted to immigration enforcement in the last two decades. The U.S. now government spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other major federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined.
The report concludes: “Immigration enforcement can thus be seen to rank as the federal government’s highest criminal law enforcement priority.” The net level of undocumented immigration from Mexico has dropped to zero. Yet, the report’s author’s note: “Public perceptions have not caught up with new realities.”
The report reveals the vast machinery behind immigration enforcement in the US, and argues that immigration enforcement has “been the dominant focus and concern driving immigration policymaking for more than 25 years.” This enforcement-first policy has led to record spending on immigration enforcement programs. Some key facts from the report:
· Spending on enforcement was about $18 billion in FY2012—15 times more than spending on similar programs in 1986.
· Over the past 26 years, the US has spent a total of $219.1 in 2012 dollars on immigration enforcement.
· Between FY 2004 and 2011, funding for controversial ICE ACCESS programs including 287(g), Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program, skyrocketed from $23 million to $690 million.
· Each year, the US government spends more on immigration enforcement than on all other major federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined: in FY 2012 it spent $18 billion on CBP, ICE, and US-VISIT—nearly 24% more than the $14.4 billion spend on the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and ATF.
The report names six pillars of the enforcement system:
· Border enforcement
· Visa controls and travel screening
· Information and interoperability of data systems
· Workplace enforcement
· The intersection of the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement
· Detention and deportation of noncitizens
In many of these areas, large budgets do not include adequate measures to protect civil rights and civil liberties, or protect against racial profiling. Further, due to the merging of the criminal justice and immigration systems, many more individuals are detained in immigration facilities (many of which are private) than are serving time in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities for ALL other federal crimes. Immigrants have become the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the US, and a source of income for the many privately-run immigration detention centers.
Although the report does not make policy recommendations, it informs the current debate on immigration reform by stating clearly that “enforcement alone is not sufficient to answer the broad challenges that immigration—illegal and legal—post from sociality and for America’s future. Meeting those needs cannot be accomplished by more enforcement” (13).
Rights Working Group is committed to an enforcement system that is fair, just, and respects the dignity of every person in the US, regardless of race, religion, or immigration or other status. As the debate in Washington heats up over immigration reform this year, our coalition will be advancing rights-based measures, and opposing proposals that further criminalize communities or encourage racial profiling in immigration enforcement.
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Full Report: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/enforcementpillars.pdf
Report In Brief: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/pillars-reportinbrief.pdf
Opinion: Moving beyond illegal immigration enforcement policies by Doris Messiner, MPI Director and report co-author, in The Washington Post
Immigration Enforcement Cost Higher Than FBI, Policing Drugs, Guns Combined: Report article and video report by Huffington Post
For more on the troubling merging of the criminal justice and immigration systems, check out Operation Streamline: Costs and Consequences by Grassroots Leadership.