Analysts from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates reduced immigration levels and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws, said today that legalization programs for undocumented immigrants typically lead to fraud and increased illegal immigration.
Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) joined a panel of CIS analysts in criticizing the Obama administration's deferred action program (DACA), which grants two-year, renewable deportation reprieves to some undocumented young people. Smith lumped it alongside other "amnesty" programs that he considered failures.
"If history is any indication, DACA will be accompanied by significant levels of fraud," Smith said, adding that the administration "has ignored U.S. immigration laws."
"We all know that identity documents can be easily forged," he said.
The four CIS panelists in attendance echoed that sentiment and called for the enforcement of current immigration laws before the implementation of any new reforms.
"Amnesties are notorious for fraud," said Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst for the center.
According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that oversees the deferred action program, they keep an eye out for fraud.
"USCIS is committed to upholding the integrity of the immigration system and uses a systematic approach to combating fraud," said USCIS Press Secretary Christopher Bentley in a statement. "If individuals knowingly make a misrepresentation, or knowingly fail to disclose facts...they will be treated as an immigration enforcement priority to the fullest extent permitted by law, and be subject to criminal prosecution and/or removal from the United States."
But the CIS analysts said they think fraud is a part of any "amnesty" program, and new reforms are worthless without adequate enforcement of existing policies.
The White House plans to push back against the idea that immigration reform amounts to amnesty, according to a recent report in The New York Times. "The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status."
Despite the allegations of fraud in the deferred action program, relatively few people have applied thus far. Of the more than 1.7 million people the Pew Hispanic Center estimated would be eligible, fewer than 400,000 had applied by mid-December.
David North, a fellow at CIS, said that previous efforts at immigration reform, such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), were too complicated and that any reforms should be smaller and more narrowly targeted. North added that there "should be no programs specifically for farmworkers," and called for an end to programs that allow people to bring family members into the country.
He said the agriculture industry's claims that American workers won't do the jobs currently filled by migrant farm workers could be solved by forcing the industry to pay workers more and facilitating transportation to farms. As an example, he said that buses could run from inner cities to fields to pick crops.
CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian said that fines and other penalties in any immigration bill are only there to get Republican votes, and that there will "certainly be waivers."
"It's window dressing," he said.
While CIS opposes some current immigration policies, including DACA, as amnesty, the center supports policies aimed at enforcement.
"We have built some good systems to control immigration, but this is hardly the formidable machinery or foundation that is necessary before we can put any kind of legalization program in place," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the center.
Vaughan called for nationwide implementation of E-Verify, a federal employment verification program, and the deportation of people not approved for immigration programs such as DACA.
Some unapproved DACA applicants are allowed to stay in the U.S. because of prosecutorial discretion, which allows officials to prioritize the deportation of violent criminals and repeat offenders over other undocumented immigrants.
Immigration advocates, the panelists said, distort statistics to make immigration reform proposals seem more appealing. They cited a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that said the government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement in the United States combined.
Vaughan alleged that the MPI report includes activities that are not related to immigration enforcement, such as customs screening, drug and weapons interdiction, and intellectual property violations.
But according to Michelle Mittelstadt, a spokeswoman for MPI, the report was clear about its methodology.
"First of all, we were completely transparent in this report as to what agencies were in our calculations," Mittelstadt said.
She added that there are significant immigration enforcement activities in other agencies that were not included, citing the State Department's consular services and the U.S. Coast Guard's interdiction activities as examples.
With immigration set to take center stage as President Obama begins his second term in the White House, the issue has already generated passionate reactions from lawmakers and immigration organizations on both sides of the aisle.
"I don't know of any subject today that Congress deals with that is more emotional," Smith said. "It absolutely impacts every aspect of every American's daily life."