The Corner

Law & the Courts

Treat Illegal Immigration as What It Is: A Law-Enforcement Problem

In response to I Am Unreasonable

Victor’s excellent column on illegal immigration raises the tough questions presented by removable aliens who have committed serious but non-violent identity-fraud crimes. They are tough because they implicate the gray area between two extremes.

On one end, everyone knows that it is neither possible nor desirable to deport the entire illegal-immigrant population (estimated at 11 million-plus); on the other, there is strong consensus that serious criminals and those in defiance of deportation orders should be deported forthwith, though we know this is just a minority subset of that population. It is not an insignificant subset: As Victor notes, even before President Trump entered office, close to a million people were facing government removal orders.

This brings to the fore a subject on which I fear I’m becoming a broken record, but I’ll hit it again anyway. Since 9/11, we’ve lost the distinction between national-security challenges and crime problems. Illegal immigration is a crime problem. Yes, it has some important national-security aspects (as do other crime problems), but the percentage of illegal aliens who threaten national security (as opposed to who are recidivist criminals) is negligible.

The distinction is important. We must always have as a goal eradicating national-security challenges – even if the goal is unrealistic, a single terrorist attack can be so catastrophic, we must take extra measures to prevent it. To the contrary, it is not our goal to eradicate crime problems – it would neither be possible nor desirable (in terms of the costs to liberty) to do that.

Crime problems do not lend themselves to “comprehensive” solutions. Instead, they are managed by reasonable and hopefully efficient law enforcement.

Since enforcement resources are finite, priority will be given to removing serious criminals in the illegal-immigrant population. But what is a “serious” crime? The answer to this question, Victor points out, will depend on our view of identity-fraud crimes (and related varieties of document fraud). These are felonies. Because illegal aliens commit them massively, their apologists want us to think of such offenses as “unserious.” But they are even conceivable that way only when compared to heinous violent crimes; and we know they are not unserious because they are treated quite seriously by the government when committed by American citizens.

I don’t think it is useful to make a rule about how we should regard identity-fraud offenders in the immigration population, because the offense behavior varies so widely. One person may have gotten a single fraudulent ID years ago in order to get a job, in connection with which he pays taxes, living an otherwise law-abiding life and being an asset to his community. Another may use fraudulent IDs to purloin benefits from social-welfare programs. Another may be in the fraudulent-ID business.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Better simply to let law enforcement do its job.

A sensible allocation of resources in immigration enforcement would focus on border security, apprehension and removal of known criminal aliens, and the magnets of illegal immigration – employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens and the abuse of welfare programs. If you address those things, you eliminate or drastically reduce the incentive for immigrants to come to or stay in the U.S. illegally. The illegal-immigrant population would decrease, probably dramatically.

Beyond that, illegal immigrants who choose to stay here take their chances. The thing I have never understood about proposals for “comprehensive immigration reform” is the presumption that it is our obligation as Americans not only to address but to cure the illegal status of people who choose to violate our laws by entering our country illegally or overstaying their legal permission to remain here. If you are an illegal alien in this country, that is your choice and therefore your problem, not mine. (Caveat: I am not talking about “DREAMers”; they are a comparatively small category of people who were brought here as children, whose illegal status is not their fault, and who have never known any home other than the United States.)

I don’t believe we need to or should hassle people, including illegal aliens, who are generally law-abiding. But if you are not here legally, and you encounter police when they are carrying out their normal duties, you run the risk of being arrested and deported. Maybe in an individual case, the equities will call for exercising discretion against triggering removal proceedings. But in most cases, illegal aliens who are encountered in the course of ordinary law enforcement operations should be detained and deported.

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