Falsehood: By enforcing the laws already on the books we can fix our broken immigration system.
The truth: No. Virtually every senior security official to look at this problem concurs that we cannot simply “enforce our way out of this problem.” Our failed enforcement policies offer glaring evidence that more enforcement is an empty promise, not an effective solution. During the past decade, we tripled the number of agents on the border, quintupled their budget, toughened our enforcement strategies, and heavily fortified urban entry points. Yet, during the same time period there have been record levels of illegal immigration, porous borders, a cottage industry created for smugglers and documents forgers, and tragic deaths in our deserts.
Effective enforcement policies are critical to restoring integrity and legitimacy to a system that currently lacks both, but our current laws are so divorced from this country’s economic and social realities that to think we will be able to restore order and legality without reform of those laws is naive. The apt enforcement analogy is to consider what would happen if we lowered the speed limit our highways to 25 mph. We would create a nation of lawbreakers and an impossible enforcement challenge for our highway patrols.
Enforcement will work only when our laws reflect the economic and social realities of 21st century America. By establishing legal migration channels, we can reduce the enforcement targets so that we focus our resources on those who mean to do us harm, not on those who are filling our labor market needs or reuniting with their close family members. Our current immigration policy exhibits the same fundamental flaws we saw with laws enacted during Prohibition. It’s not realistic, it doesn’t reflect our needs, and it makes good, law-abiding individuals into lawbreakers. In short, it’s bad policy.
Comprehensive immigration reform is needed to make legality the norm and restore legitimacy to the law. This will help us to differentiate between the law-abiders and the law-breakers and will allow for a more efficient allocation of enforcement resources.