April 30, 2010


I have sympathy for people who are freaked out by desperate immigrants and ruthless smugglers trampling over their property in southern Arizona, and as I’ve said elsewhere, us pro-immigrant types too easily skate over rule-of-law objections. Federal immigration policy is a failure, and poses real public policy challenges that no amount of righteous indignation and/or handwaving makes disappear.

But anti-illegal immigration crackdowns almost always end up restricting freedom for the rest of us. And giving cops more power is almost always felt more on the receiving end by people–including people just as law-abiding as you and I–who don’t look like the norm.

This is a good argument for focusing border security at . . . the border, where it doesn’t impact ordinary citizens day-to-day. Shifting from border security to internal security is both an admission of failure at the borders, and a much more far-reaching and intrusive approach.

UPDATE: A reader who requests anonymity says that I’m wrong here:

I love your blog. But I must object to your recent statement: “Shifting from border security to internal security is both an admission of failure at the borders, and a much more far-reaching and intrusive approach.”

I am a Federal Agent who works the line in Arizona. While I cannot speak officially for my agency, and risk considerable discipline for speaking out otherwise, the MAJOR failure we have regarding immigration security and control is with internal security. While we are failing at the borders, and I am there on the ground, there is no way in hell we will EVER hope to achieve border security while internal security (meaning enforcement) remains virtually nonexistent. I am not impugning ICE Agents who are focusing on criminal aliens; they are simply overwhelmed with manpower issues not to mention overloads on the docket, among other things.

Illegals know they are home free once away from the border. Achieving even a fairly shallow degree of internal enforcement will discourage border crossers from illegally entering the country if they believe their chances of being caught and returned to their native country will be high even if they successfully evade capture at the border. We must remove or at least ameliorate the magnet that draws them here.

Moreover, I believe you will find, upon examination, the Immigration and Nationality Act (particularly after the last amnesty of 1986) specifically calls for this “far reaching and intrusive approach” of internal enforcement, which was meant to “get tough” with immigration as a result of the amnesty deal. The laws have been on the books for decades; the problem, of course, is that political interests on both the right and the left have forced public officials with immigration enforcement agencies, namely Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to virtually abandon the interior enforcement of laws already on the books (policy vs. law). You would not imagine the hell I’d be subjected to for enforcing things against policy that by statute I have authority to do. The intrusive approach is only so intrusive to those who squeal the loudest about which is already lawful and, more important, effective. The political interests on both the right and the left most certainly have the most to gain (at all of our expense) with the status quo. The real underlying issues of prohibitive taxes on businesses, voting blocs, welfare, and revenues for religious organizations will remain unexamined.

I still think better border security would help. It is true, though, that even modest enforcement aimed at employers can make a difference.

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