Immigration Enforcement? Yes, We Can!

What to do about illegal immigration? Too many people are paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem, and figure that since we can’t deport them all, we’ll have to bite the bullet and let them all stay legally -- i.e., give them amnesty.

But this is a digital (on-or-off, one-or-zero) approach to an analog problem. Our goal should not be a magical solution that eliminates illegal immigration, but rather a real-world solution that reduces it over time.

This approach -- which has come to be called “attrition through enforcement” -- involves a program of consistent, comprehensive application of the immigration law (something we have never attempted), not only at the borders, but also at our consulates overseas and at worksites and elsewhere inside the country. The aim is to reduce the number of foreigners sneaking in to the country (or overstaying visas) and at the same time increase the number of illegal immigrants already here who go home -- some forcibly through deportation, but most voluntarily, through what might be called self-deportation. By engineering a steady decrease in the total number of illegal aliens, instead of the continual annual increases we’ve permitted over the past two decades, we can back out of a problem that has taken many years to develop.

But can it work? In particular, can illegal immigrants be induced to pack up and go back?

The evidence is in and the answer is “yes.” The Bush Administration began with a deep hostility toward immigration enforcement and a commitment to amnesty. But as the drive for amnesty was stopped by public outrage, the Department of Homeland Security has been given the green light to actually do its job. There have been significant increases in detention capacity, Border Patrol agents, border fencing, deportations, and local jurisdictions cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Perhaps most important have been the efforts to turn off the jobs magnet that attracts illegal immigrants and keeps them here. Worksite arrests have grown five-fold since 2004 and the E-Verify program, a voluntary online system which enables employers to identify illegal workers, has been ramped up significantly and now vets more than 10 percent of all new hires. Arizona this year has started requiring use of E-Verify by all employers in the state, and soon its use will be a requirement for federal contractors as well.