Opinion

Immigration Reform That Doesn’t ‘Turn Off The Magnet’ Is Useless And Needlessly Expensive

Ian Smith Immigration Reform Law Institute

Although spending taxpayer money isn’t usually a big concern for the president, he’s managed to get plenty of mileage out of the “limited resources” argument for cutting deportations and pushing through amnesty. The phrase litters the Office of Legal Counsel’s justification for DAPA and the Justice Department makes it their central argument against Texas and the 25 other states currently challenging that program in court.

Picking between mass deportation and mass amnesty, however, is a false choice and it’s long been known, among immigration agents at least, that programs like mandatory e-Verify and others would make much of our illegal alien problem disappear through cost-free, voluntary deportations. The states challenging DAPA (and future lawsuit from Congress) should raise this third “strategy of attrition” option in their rebuttal against DOJ.

Meanwhile, the now wavering Secure Our Borders First Act could garner more support from pro-enforcement conservatives if e-Verify and other programs that turn off the illegal immigration-magnet were provided for. Now could be the perfect time to push forward an “attrition” agenda and put the Obama administration’s “we can’t afford to deport them all” argument to rest.

A “strategy of attrition” is what Jessica Vaughn at the Center for Immigration Studies defines as enforcement measures that “encourage voluntary compliance with immigration laws rather than relying on forced removal.” Those measures outlined by Vaughn as well as Senator Sessions in his recent Immigration Primer for the 114th Congress would, she says, halve our illegal alien population in five years and at little cost.

First and foremost is the requirement that that all employers be made to verify the status of their workers. Because most illegal aliens are economic migrants, turning off the wage-magnet is, as Barbara Jordan called it, “the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to deter unlawful migration.” When Arizona made e-Verify mandatory in 2008, it was so successful the neighbouring Mexican state of Sonora sent a delegation to Tucson to complain that they couldn’t handle the influx of illegal aliens returning across the border.

Vaughn estimates such a requirement could deny jobs to three million workers in three years at a cost of only $400 million over five years – Last spring, DHS’s supplemental budget request for dealing with the 60,000 permiso-seeking alien minors was $3.7 billion – Congressman Dave Brat, the only economist in the House, knows incentives well. He’s lambasted the border security bill, saying that without e-Verify, “It doesn’t shut down the spigot … all the incentives are still in place for folks to come here.”

Another magnet is the disastrous Earned Income Tax Credit program. It pays out $56 billion annually, however, it has a 25 percent improper payments rate (mostly due to illegal aliens claiming the credit using fake social security numbers), making it more than twice as wasteful as fraud-ridden Medicaid. IRS continuously flouts the Improper Payments Elimination Act which requires agencies to keep their error rates below 10 percent and despite social security fraud being a serious felony, charges aren’t common. Coordination between IRS and DHS on spotting fake social security numbers (currently there’s none) could stop the thousands of dollars in payments going to people who’ve broken our immigration laws and would free up billions that could be spent on schools and infrastructure.

40 percent of illegal aliens are visa-overstayers. Collecting biometric information upon entry and exit at all ports is key in identifying visitors who’ve fallen out of status. Although provided for in previous acts of Congress, the program is simply never implemented. Not only will this deter overstaying, Vaughn estimates costs to be only $350 million over 5 years and the data generated would also help the State Department see which countries have the highest overstay-rate.

Other measures that align with Obama’s “limited resources” concerns include letting states tailor local laws to regulate illegal immigration where possible, increased cooperation between ICE and police, and putting more money into ICE for non-criminal alien investigations. This would create apprehension for current of future illegal aliens, says Vaughn. At the time of her report, investigations of non-criminal illegal aliens made up just 5 percent of all ICE’s investigative hours (probably far less now).

Border security is essential, but it will never be enough without a program that encourages self-deportation and turns off the jobs-magnet. By pursuing both together, Vaughn estimates the 11.5 million illegal alien population would be reduced to 5.6 million in five years. The alternative is to go with truly bankrupting programs like DACA and DAPA, which Heritage’s Robert Rector estimates together will cost more than $8 trillion over a generation.

Indeed, the government does have “limited resources,” which is why we need smart deterrence, real enforcement and a rescission of all unlawful amnesties.