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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

ENFORCEMENT FIRST IS WORKING

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Now some of my pro-immigration cohorts may be upset with me for saying this - but I think the Center for Immigration Studies is right about something important. We know from various government and other reports that the number of unlawfully present immigrants in this country has been rapidly declining over the last year or so. Pro-immigration groups are blaming the recession. CIS and other anti-immigration groups are saying that the ramped up enforcement at the border and at work sites around the country explain the decline.

I agree with CIS. Yes, it's true that the economic decline is likely causing somewhat of a drop in demand for the services of immigrant workers. But the pro-immigrant groups argument assumes that the economic situation in Mexico and other countries sending immigrants to the US has not been affected by the global recession as well.

I think enforcement is having an impact. No one really knows exactly how fast the number of unlawfully present immigrants has dropped, but both the pro-immigration and anti-immigration community seem to agree that it is happening. They're just fighting over the "why" part. The Center for Immigration Studies estimated that the decline has been in the double digits just this year.The Pew folks have the number dropping by 500,000.  Yesterday, according to US News and World Report, Secretary Chertoff was bragging about DHS' enforcement accomplishments:

"For the first time, we've reversed momentum," he said.

Just within the past week, the number of Border Patrol agents
serving in the department topped 18,000, Chertoff said. That's more
than double the 9,000 agents on duty when President Bush took office in
2000. In addition, Chertoff said that the Bush administration will
leave office having completed about 90 percent of the planned border
fencing project along sections of the 700-mile U.S.-Mexico border.


But I think this is actually very good news for the pro-immigration community. A lot of the people who voted no on comprehensive immigration reform when it came up in 2006 and 2007 said that we needed to actually enforce our laws vigorously before turning our attention to the large unlawfully present population in this country. The people in the "enforcement first" camp say they are pro-immigration, but want real evidence that we're making every effort to secure the borders and go after employers violating the law.

The enforcement first folks are really in the middle in the immigration debate. On one side you have the "comprehensive reform" advocates that believe you needed to have legalization and a guest worker program simultaneously rolled out with a vigorous enforcement program. You can only solve our problems by addressing everything together rather than in a piecemeal fashion.  And, of course, there has been the anti-immigration camp that believe that we should enforce immigration laws and then stop at that because we have too much immigration. They also believe that all of the unlawfully present immigrants should be forced to go home or make life so miserable for them that they leave on their own.

Because they're in the middle, the enforcement first members of Congress are really the swing voters on an immigration reform package. It is now possible to make the case to these persuadable legislators that they got what they asked for in 2006 and 2007 and they can now tell their constituents that they delivered - we have largely gained control over illegal immigration and it's time to turn to the next chapter in solving our immigration problems. The pro-immigration community that tries to say that immigration numbers are tied strictly to the state of the economy and enforcement has no impact are not helping matters, in my opinion. If that's true, why have immigration enforcement as part of a comprehensive plan at all?

In short, it's time for the pro-immigration community to stop using the term "comprehensive immigration reform." Instead, refer to "phased" immigration reform. And Phase 1 - enforcing our current laws and gaining control over the border - has succeeded. Now it's time for Phase 2 - implementing a legalization program and addressing problems in the legal immigration system.

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  1. Another voice's Avatar
    Sounds like a solid argument Greg what ever the reason sounds like a good argument to take out of the hands of the antis or what you called folks stuck in the middle. However, I think if the recession hits hard here it hits harder on third world countries and people would still take a chance at coming here illegally looking for a chance at a better life.
  2. George Chell's Avatar
    Enforcement is working. It is not the immigrants leave because of the economy. It is that the economy falls apart when immigrants leave. After Michigan, Arizona has the worst economy in the country and the worst housing crisis. Some say that the Gross State Product in AZ is likely to go down by 8% this quarter, the worst in the country.
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