Spending for immigration enforcement significantly outweighs the cumulative spending for all other major criminal federal law enforcement in the U.S., according to a report released today by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
With this in mind, the report, "Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery," finds that the U.S. must move beyond an enforcement-driven approach to immigration and focus on more effective workplace enforcement and changing immigration policy to better suit the country's economic needs.
The federal government spent nearly $18 billion in the 2012 fiscal year to fund agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US-VISIT, a system that tracks the entry and exit of visitors to the U.S. Over the same period, the government spent $14.4 billion on the combined budgets of the major criminal enforcement agencies, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
The 180-page report challenges a long-standing contention by immigration restrictionists that the U.S. needs more border security before it can consider immigration reform.
"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," Doris Meissner, the director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, wrote in The Washington Post today. "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."
As recently as December, Mark Krikorian, the head of the Center for Immigration Studies, a leading restrictionist think tank, told ABC/Univision that more enforcement programs would need to be in place before Congress should change immigration laws. Roy Beck, the founder and CEO of NumbersUSA, another restrictionist organization, echoed that idea.
But the report released today shows that dollar-for-dollar, immigration is by far the federal government's top priority when it comes to federal criminal enforcement.
Adjusted for inflation, the federal budget for immigration enforcement has grown from $1.2 billion in 1986 to $17.9 billion in 2012, with stark increases since the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.
Meanwhile, apprehensions at the border have fallen to levels not seen in more than 40 years. In the 2011 fiscal year, apprehensions dropped to 340,252, the lowest level since 1970.
Net migration from Mexico has dropped to zero and may be going in reverse, meaning that more Mexican immigrants may be leaving the U.S. than are entering it. While enforcement plays a role in that decline, the migration numbers have also been affected by a sluggish U.S. economy, a growing Mexican middle class and shrinking fertility rates among Mexican women.