Enforcement First Has Not Been Sound Immigration Policy

Dr. Walter Ewing of the Immigration Policy Center has a new report out and outlines some of the phallacies associated with the enforcement first argument.  Many activists and anti-immigration groups have vocally supported first enforcing the current laws in the U.S. before trying to bring in any reform that would grant legal status to unauthorized immigration already residing within the country. If the government does not enforce the laws they have written, then they will undermine the system and this will be unfair to the immigrants who went through the long and expensive process of acquiring the necessary paperwork to reside in the U.S. legally. Congress, U.S. citizens, and immigrants are no longer using the “let’s wait a while” approach previously advocated for by anti-immigrant groups. Congress has met and on top of their agenda is a brand new immigration system.

The government has been trying to curb unauthorized immigration since 1986 with the implementation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). This act takes on a three-pronged approach to immigration including: a legalization program for those already residing in the country, a prohibition against unauthorized workers, and increased border enforcement. As we can see now, these points are not effective enough as unauthorized workers have found various jobs in the U.S. since they continue to emigrate here, a legalization program for those residing here is ineffective, and the border is not completely secure. Since 1986, the nation has spent an estimated $186.8 billion on immigration enforcement through new laws, hiring security guards and technology to secure the border and run prisons for those detained here. The fact that such a large amount of money has been spent on immigration enforcement and the entire process must be changed illustrates the ineffectiveness of the system. There are several improvements to the immigration system that must be made to help improve the quality of life for citizens and those hoping to one day acquire citizenship.

  • Enforcement of border control- unauthorized immigration cannot continue because people lose the incentives to legally enter the U.S.
  • Visa controls and screening- technology allows enforcement officials to screen for those who pose a threat to the U.S.
  • Information and data systems- a new system tying together all immigration databases
  • Detention and removal of noncitizens- ICE maintains a large complex detainment system but it needs to focus on helping individuals who reside in the U.S. to become citizens rather than sending them back to countries where many times they deal with poverty, hunger, and danger.

Each government agency dealing with immigration has advice to Congress on what needs to change. While Congress has had a difficult time previously agreeing on the right way to approach immigration, these agencies and individuals who deal with immigrant families on a daily basis could offer long lists of advice on what needs to be changed. The “enforcement first” attitude has been going on for decades, but it’s time to take the next step to evaluate the immigration laws.

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