The Progression Of Us Immigration Policy Criminology Essay

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Since its founding, the United States has always been a symbol of prosperity, opportunity, and freedom. It was built upon the premise of welcoming all those that wished to immigrate to this great nation and start a new life. Even the Statue of Liberty famously displays on a plaque at its base the quote: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." In modern times, however, the immigration policy of our nation has become increasingly restrictive and bureaucratic from what it once was decades and centuries ago. Immigration policy reform is a perennial hot potato politically that, at times, deeply divides our nation and its citizens in their beliefs. What is certain, however, is that our illegal immigrant population continues to rise at an incredible and seemingly unstoppable rate, despite increased spending on immigration enforcement, rising concern over the security of our homeland and borders, and the threat of terrorism.

The challenges that our nation face concerning immigration bring about several obvious questions. Is the current immigration policy effective? If changes are needed, what would be the most effective and successful ways to reform our current immigration policy? What systems can be developed to accurately detect and identify individuals that are here illegally and are not authorized to work within the United States, while simultaneously protecting the rights of citizens and others authorized to be in the country? What role can state and local government agencies play in assisting federal immigration enforcement officials in executing their duties? While immigration policy reform is certainly a broad topic, this literature review will attempt to examine a few key aspects of the immigration debate to shed some insight on the current state of immigration enforcement and the challenges that agency administrators currently face.

Challenges within the Current Immigration Enforcement Policy

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the primary agency for border protection and immigration enforcement. As part of the DHS, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is responsible for preventing the entry of inadmissible people and illicit goods at our nation's ports of entry and across our borders while also not hindering the flow of legitimate trade goods and travel in and out of the country(U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2010). While the primary focus of CBP is on the nation's borders, airports, sea ports, and other ports of entry, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is the lead federal investigative agency for immigration law with a primary enforcement focus on the nation's interior. ICE prioritizes enforcement efforts to concentrate on the most dangerous criminals and sophisticated criminal organizations (Spero, 2008) and is surpassed only the Federal Bureau of Investigation in agency size. ICE is also the only federal agency with authority to enforce both immigration and federal criminal law, making it both highly adaptable and unique (Hines, 2010).

Over 12 million illegal immigrants are estimated to be in the United States presently, with Mexican nationals comprising approximately 56%, or over 6 million, of the illegal immigrant population (Brookings-Duke Immigration Policy Roundtable, 2009). Despite significant increases in border protection and immigration enforcement funding, the illegal immigrant population over the past two decades in the United States has roughly tripled (Passel & Cohn, 2008), providing strong evidence that the current enforcement-only approach to the illegal immigration problem during that time has had very limited success.

Since 1992-the year before the current era of concentrated immigration enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border-the annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has increased by 714 percent; from $326.2 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 1992 to $2.7 billion in FY 2009. At the same time, the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the southwest border has grown by 390 percent; from 3,555 in FY 1992 to 17,415 in FY 2009. Moreover, since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, the budget of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the parent agency of the Border Patrol within DHS, has increased by 92 percent; from $6.0 billion in FY 2003 to $11.3 billion in FY 2009. The budget of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased by 82 percent; from $3.3 billion in FY 2003 to $5.9 billion in FY 2009 (Ewing, 2010).

Since enforcement efforts have increased so dramatically at border crossings, migrants attempting to gain entry to the United States are being forced to cross into the United States in increasingly dangerous and often remote parts of the southern border's desert and mountainous areas (Ewing, 2010). Even more intriguing, well over 90 percent of illegal immigrants apprehended by law enforcement continue attempts to cross the border until they are successful, with most relying upon professional smugglers to assist them in making the border crossing, according to a study conducted at the University of California. Illegal immigrants are willing to undertake these risks provided that employment is available in the United States (Cornelius, et. al., 2008). The U.S. Government Accountability Office has estimated that the number of deaths of those crossing the border have doubled since 1995 due to the concentrated border enforcement policy (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2006). Even more interesting, the increased border enforcement has encouraged more illegal immigrants and authorized visitors to remain in the United States once they have successfully gained entry, given the high cost and risk of making repeat border crossings and the complicated process and limited success of getting visas and permanent resident cards approved (Ewing, 2010).

Economic Impact of Illegal Immigration

What is clear to immigration policy administrators is that a policy of deportation for every illegal immigrant would be an impossible undertaking logistically, legally, politically, and economically. According to Julie L. Myers, administrator for ICE in 2007, the cost of such an undertaking would be at least $94 billion (Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2007). Still other groups estimate this cost to be between $206 billion and $230 billion over five years (Ewing, 2010). These cost estimates, however, do not account for the potential economic impact that would result from U.S. employers losing their illegal immigrant workforce. " A 2008 study by The Perryman Group estimated that, were all unauthorized workers and consumers removed from the country, the United States would lose $551.6 billion in annual spending, $245 billion in annual economic output, and more than 2.8 million jobs" (The Perryman Group, 2008). "Moreover, federal and state treasuries would lose the revenue they now receive from unauthorized taxpayers, [since] between half and three-quarters of unauthorized immigrants pay federal and state taxes" (White House, 2005).

Employment Eligibility Verification Compliance

Aside from the chance to enjoy the freedom, rights, services, and entitlements that citizens of the United States receive, illegal immigrants risk apprehension and their own health at times for the chance to gain employment. Acknowledging the limited success that the government has had on securing its borders, ICE began an initiative in 2006 to conduct raids on workplaces and homes of suspected illegal migrants. "Between 2003 and 2008, worksite raids led to a 10-fold increase in detention of people who were believed to have entered the country without authorization" (McLeigh, 2010).

Since the Obama Administration came into office in 2009, however, this initiative has come under great scrutiny politically, resulting in ICE administrators severely restricting the execution of such raids. As an alternative to the raids, ICE has altered its priorities to place greater focus on employer compliance with immigration laws. All employers are required by federal law to complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification for every new employee that hire to ensure their employees are authorized to work within the United States. While completing the form, the employer must verify both the new employee's identity (by reviewing some form of government-issued or official photo ID) and their employment eligibility (by reviewing a U.S. passport, Social Security Card, or one of the 12 other authorized documents listed on the form) (Stana, 2006). If the employer is non-compliant in this requirement to verify an employee's eligibility to work, then ICE may file criminal charges and/or civil fines against the employer. To aid in this new initiative, ICE has hired numerous forensic auditors to conduct widespread I-9 investigation at employers suspected of hiring illegal immigrants (Hines, 2010).

Prior to this initiative shift, I-9 compliance investigations had become almost non-existent since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 due to changes in agency priorities. "Between fiscal years 1999 and 2004, the number of notices of intent to fine issued to employers for improperly completing Forms I-9 or knowingly hiring unauthorized workers generally decreased from 417 to 3" (Stana, 2006). While agency administrators have placed a renewed focus on I-9 compliance enforcement in the past few years, proper verification of employee eligibility documents continues to be a challenge. To assist employers in verifying employee eligibility documents, the federal government has been encouraging employers to use an internet-based employment eligibility verification system called E-Verify. First created in November 1997, E-Verify asks employers to input submitted I-9 Form information into the system. E-Verify then compares the submitted information (such as social security number or passport number) and compares it to approximately 445 million Social Security Administration and more than 80 million Department of Homeland Security data records to verify accuracy(Social Security Administration, 2010). If E-Verify confirms the submitted information is correct, the employer is advised that the employee is eligible to be employed (National Immigration Law Center, 2008).

The challenge with E-Verify, however, is that employers are often presented with verification documents that are either fraudulently manufactured or acquired through identity theft from an individual legally eligible to be employed in the United States. Often employers are unable to detect when a presented document is fraudulent; and since these documents are often created with the information of an individual eligible for employment, E-Verify will approve employment of the individual based upon the submitted information (Stana, 2006).

While participation in the E-Verify system is voluntary for U.S. employers, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) mandated its use by all federal departments and agencies in August 2007. Compliance with this mandate among federal agencies was sometimes limited, however. For example, a January 2010 audit conducted by the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General found that out of 9,311 new employees hired at the Administration in Fiscal Years 2008 and 2009, 19% (1,767) newly hired employees had not been confirmed as eligible for employment through E-Verify. Even more surprising, 49% (3,658) of new hires were not confirmed as eligible for employment through E-Verify in a timely manner as required by OMB and the E-Verify Memo of Understanding for program participants (Social Security Administration, 2010). This audit exposed the lack of compliance among employers on verifying the eligibility of newly hired employees, even at the federal level, and demonstrates the challenge faced by federal immigration enforcement officials.

Immigration Enforcement by State and Local Government Agencies

While the federal government has done what it can to address the current illegal immigration problem, the resources that it can dedicate to immigration enforcement are still very limited. To aid with these efforts, the federal legislature in 1996 approved a program enabling ICE to deputize state, county, and local law enforcement officers to perform limited immigration enforcement actions. Called "Section 287(g)," the program was intended to act as a force multiplier for federal immigration agencies in enforcing their laws while also identifying dangerous criminals (Thompson, 2009). Deputized officers in the program were given the powers to: a) arrest and transfer prisoners (an inherent power); b) investigate immigration violations; c) collect evidence and assemble an immigration enforcement case for prosecution or possible removal proceedings; d) take custody of aliens (illegal immigrants) on behalf of federal law enforcement; and e) execute other general immigration enforcement powers (Kris, 2009). As participation in Section 287(g) has grown, supporters have identified six main accomplishments of the program: a) addresses terrorism concerns; b) compensates for a lack of federal immigration enforcement officials in jurisdictions across the country; c) removes convicted alien criminals after completion of their prison sentences; d) addresses dangerous illegal alien criminals and gang members; e) restores the rule of law in areas with unusually high levels illegal immigrant populations; and f) protects unemployed U.S. citizens from completion with illegal immigrants for available jobs (Kris, 2009). As of March 2009, participation has grown to 67 programs in 23 states. In 2008, agencies participating in the program were credited with the arrest of approximately 43,000 illegal immigrants and removal of approximately 29,000 detainees. "In the absence of Section 287(g), it is likely that few, if any of those 43,000 immigration arrests would have occurred" (Kris, 2009).

Since taking office, however, the Obama Administration has changed the powers granted to participating Section 287(g) agencies by restricting what criminal illegal immigrants can be referred to ICE under the program. Under the new restrictions, the illegal immigrants must have been arrested for "drug offenses, the most violent crimes such as murder or rape, or serious property crimes" before police can execute 287(g) authority (Edwards Jr., 2009).


The debate about programs such as Section 287(g) and their effectiveness will certainly continue. What is clear is that the solutions to the immigration problem facing this nation are highly complex and challenging. To execute actual immigration policy reform, however, legislatures and agency administrators will need to address the economic, social, and political implications that such reform will quickly create.