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Two new studies on immigration enforcement show that the border first/border only immigration policy is not enough. After spending more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, and achieving record levels of enforcement, the immigration system remains broken. The missing piece—and the centerpiece of the reform we need to see in Congress—is dealing directly with the status of the 11 million immigrants without papers here today. The reports add new momentum to the consensus for reform that is growing in Congress.
Said Frank Sharry, Executive Director here at America’s Voice Education Fund:
This report provides an important lesson for the ‘border first’ champions in the GOP: we simply can’t enforce our way to a sensible and workable immigration solution. While the GOP claims to be the party of fiscal responsibility, nothing could be more irresponsible than throwing more and more money at the problem and pretending it will finally work. It’s time for Congress to realize that what’s missing is immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants here without papers.
A study released yesterday by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) examining immigration enforcement spending found that nearly $18 billion federal tax dollars were spent on immigration enforcement just last year. This is more than the amount spent on every other federal law enforcement agency combined. The report noted:
The ‘enforcement first’ policy that has been advocated by many in Congress and the public as a precondition for considering broader immigration reform has de facto become the nation’s singular immigration policy.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post timed to coincide with the release of MPI report, Doris Meissner, one of the report authors and former INS commissioner, wrote:
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.
The MPI report comes on the heels of a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that states “those opposed to comprehensive immigration reform still point to deficiencies in border security as a reason to stall new immigration policy, but they are ignoring the facts.” CAP shows that the “border is more secure now than it has ever been” and provides an infographic that compares the current state of the border with border-security benchmarks included in both the 2006 and 2007 Senate immigration reform bills. As CAP demonstrates, “[t]hose benchmarks have now been met, and in most cases surpassed, by the investment of unprecedented resources in border security efforts.”
As the New York Times describes, Meissner highlighted that “public perceptions of uncontrolled migration across the border with Mexico ‘have not caught up with the reality.’” This false sense of border insecurity is advanced in part by the “border security first” excuse for inaction some Republicans used in the past – a politically-motivated talking point of based on myth rather than fact.
Despite the new data to the contrary, Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) – the signer of Arizona’s noxious SB1070 “show me your papers” immigration law – continues to push the “border security first” argument. As the Arizona Daily Sun describes:
Gov. Jan Brewer can’t put a specific definition on what it means to have a secure border. But she said residents along the boundary with Mexico will know it when it happens. The question of what Brewer thinks is politically significant since the governor said she will not support any form of immigration reform unless and until the border is secure.
The ‘border first’ talking point may have had its day in the past but it is now a message at odds with facts on the ground and the political imperative for the Republican Party. Jan Brewer’s take is so yesterday, and immigration reform that puts 11 million Americans-in-waiting on a path to citizenship is so now.