The Migration Policy Institute, CIS’s counterpart on the expansionist side of the immigration debate, has released a new report arguing that we now have an adequate immigration infrastructure in place to safely embrace the Obama administration’s plan to amnesty the illegal aliens already here. Doris Meissner, one of the authors of the report, argues in today’s Washington Post (it’s nice that the Post’s op-ed page coordinated with them) that the “deep public skepticism over the federal government’s will and ability to enforce the nation’s immigration laws” should be overcome by the “unprecedented, steep investments in the capacity of federal agencies to aggressively enforce immigration laws.” The factoid that MPI is expecting will be grabbed by headline writers is, as Univision puts it, “Report: U.S. Spends More on Immigration Than All Federal Criminal Enforcement Combined.”
Except there are two problems. First, when you ignore a problem for a couple of generations, catching up takes a lot of money.
The second, and more basic, problem with such a comparison is that it’s simply false. The $17.9 billion spent by ICE, CBP, and US-VISIT in FY 2012 is mostly spend on CBP — the bureau of Customs and Border Protection — which involves things such as screening cargo, checking the duty-free purchases you made abroad, and so on. It’s not so much law enforcement in the G-man sense as it is management of the daily business of government, like the Post Office or highway maintenance. What’s more, even ICE — the bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — focuses heavily on Customs matters, like the operation touted in this press release: “ICE seizes counterfeit NFL jerseys from Phoenix stores.” Doesn’t sound like “immigration enforcement” to me.
The Post’s obliging republication of the report’s press release in the form of an op-ed is correct regarding one thing: The main immigration problem we have today is not a lack of resources for enforcement. There are, of course, lots of additional enforcement measures we need to take — major things, like making E-Verify a universal part of the hiring process. But the real problem, implicitly denied by the MPI report, is that this administration chooses to use existing resources in ways that do not maximize their immigration-enforcement effect. The notion that, as Doris writes, “‘Enforcement first’ has become the nation’s de facto response to illegal immigration” is laughable. And yet that will be the starting point of the argument made by MPI’s fellow amnesty supporters in the months to come.