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As momentum grows for a real debate on immigration reform with a path to citizenship, we expect the usual suspects (mostly Republicans) to adhere to their worn out “border security first” talking point as a way to thwart progress. Today, the Migration Policy Institute is releasing a new report, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery, that puts an end to that discussion. It’s pretty clear we’ve accomplished the border security part. From the press release:
The U.S. government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, with the nearly $18 billion spent in fiscal 2012 approximately 24 percent higher than collective spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report finds.
The nation’s main immigration enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), refer more cases for federal prosecution than all Justice Department law enforcement agencies.
And a larger number of individuals are detained each year in the immigration detention system (just under 430,000 in fiscal 2011) than are serving sentences in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities for all other federal crimes.
“Today, immigration enforcement can be seen as the federal government’s highest criminal law enforcement priority, judged on the basis of budget allocations, enforcement actions and case volumes,” said MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who co-authored the report, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery.
Yes, it’s pretty clear the border security part of the debate is done. In an op-ed in The Washington Post timed to coincide with the release of the Migration Policy Institute’s report, Meissner concludes that enforcement-only is not the answer to the immigration issue:
Even with record-setting expenditures and the full use of a wide array of statutory and administrative tools, enforcement alone — no matter how well administered — is an insufficient answer to the broad challenges that illegal and legal immigration pose for America’s future. Changes must also be made to better align immigration policy with the nation’s economic and labor market requirements and with future growth and well-being.
The enforcement machinery that has been built can serve the national interest well if it also provides a platform for policy changes suited to the larger challenges that immigration represents for the United States in the 21st century.
Here’s what Frank Sharry, Executive Director here at America’s Voice had to say about the report and how immigration reform must involve more than just enforcement only:
Congress has been a one-trick pony: enforcement first and enforcement only. But we can’t enforce our way to a sensible, modernized immigration system. Congress has to enact broad legislation that combines targeted enforcement with a road to citizenship for those here without papers and a flexible and functional legal immigration system. It’s time to stop ripping families apart and wasting taxpayer dollars and time to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The Migration Policy Institute is hosting a press event to release its report this morning. Read the full report here: Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery.