There is a quaint fact that tends to be forgotten in discussions of immigration policy: the law is the law. The law says that some persons have a legal right to be in the United States and some do not. This law is not arbitrary: it was made by a legitimate, democratically elected government expressing the will of the American people. Therefore, it is high time to get serious about enforcing it by deporting all of our illegal aliens. Fortunately, this is not as hard as it looks, as we already deport some of them and merely need to apply the same programs to a greater number of people. Politically, it may be hard; logistically, it’s no big deal.
The raw numbers are staggering. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates there are currently more than eight million illegal aliens living within our borders, with more than a million more expected to be here by the end of 2003. It’s not like the public is unaware of the problem. Successive polling in recent years has consistently shown a clear – and thus far unanswered – mandate from the American electorate for its elected officials to faithfully enforce the laws they are sworn to uphold by removing the swelling illegal population. But key constituencies inside the governing class – principally the cheap labor lobby on the Republican side and the ethnic lobbies on the Democratic side – have successfully frustrated American democracy and the rule of law on this point.
Under pressure and in fits and starts, the federal government has been making token gestures of deportation, which prove that something could be done if the political decision were ever made to get serious. Between 1995 and 1998, funding for removing illegal aliens more than doubled, resulting in a rise in deportations from 50,400 to 171,000. Early INS estimates for Fiscal 2002 deportations come in at 147,345.
But with a pool of eight million potential deportees, appreciable progress will only be achieved through a general deportation policy, i.e., the principle that every person whose illegal status becomes known gets deported. The key thing to understand is that this would not require, as opponents would have us believe, some kind of fascistic police state out of a B-grade movie. All it would require is that well-established, existing programs for deportation operate on greater numbers of people.
Fundamentally, the politics of deportation may be heated, but actual deportation is quite boring.
It’s not as though it hasn’t been done before. In 1954, during the Eisenhower Administration, INS Commissioner Gen. Joseph May Swing instituted a mass search-and-removal operation targeting illegal aliens from Mexico scattered throughout the Southwest and Midwest. It coordinated the efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol, municipal, county, state and local police forces, along with the military. The coordinated and strategic use of resources and manpower soon produced positive results. In Texas, the nation’s second-largest state, the government needed only around 700 men to do the job, netting approximately 4,800 deportees on its first day and 1,100 daily thereafter. Deportees were shipped back to Mexico via rail and ship, often deep into the interior of the country to discourage recidivism. When funding for the initiative ran out that fall, the INS claimed some 2.1 million removals, including those who voluntarily returned to Mexico before and during the operation. Following the 1954 effort, illegal immigration dwindled until the mid-1960s.
This is the real benefit of deportation: it discourages illegal immigration in the first place, reducing both the enforcement burden and the social problems that immigration causes. Once would-be immigration criminals realize they will only be deported, their numbers drop within a range that can easily be contained. Ironically enough, this means that a laxer immigration policy, not a stricter one, requires more manpower to enforce the tatters of law that remain, and costs more money to run. Once would-be illegals get the message, there will be a lot fewer of them.
One cannot help noticing that someone who enters this country illegally has already shown, simply by so doing, a contempt for our nation’s laws and a propensity to violate them. It is no accident that illegal aliens are grossly over-represented among convicted criminals.
Today, potential candidates for mass deportation can be traced through what analysts say is the main source driving illegal immigration: jobs. Yet elected officials under lobbying pressure from special interests have derailed every recent worksite enforcement attempt by the INS. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the modest number of illegal immigrant workers it managed to round up through its 1998 raids during Georgia’s Vidalia onion harvest were overwhelmingly obscured by the thousands who fled the fields to avoid arrest. Soon, local pressure from employers and local politicians resulted in letters of outrage from both of the state’s Senators and three of its Representatives to the U.S. Attorney General and Secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture and Labor citing a “lack of concern for the farmer.”
Translation: greedy agribusiness wants cheap labor and would like immunity from the laws of the land to get that labor. Shielding itself from criticism by projecting a sentimental image of “family farms” that hasn’t corresponded with the industrialized and corporate-controlled agricultural reality in this country in years, agribusiness uses political power to violate the law for profit. Other industries that run on cheap illegal labor, like the restaurant trade, do the same less crassly. These interests are guilty of aiding, abetting, and profiting from crime and should be treated as such. We can start by imposing sufficiently large fines on employers of illegals.
Under a realistic deportation program, Congress would allocate the necessary workforce funding for INS inspectors to target key trades and worksites. A working model appeared in April 1999, when the INS embarked on Operation Vanguard, targeting illegal workers in the Midwest’s meatpacking industry through audits of employee personnel records.
Why the meat-packing industry? Because in the last 30 years, meat-packing has gone from being one of the most solid and well-paid blue collar jobs to a low-wage sweatshop industry, almost entirely on the backs of cheap foreign labor, much of it illegal. This erosion of the economic base of the American working class must be resisted if we are to maintain our commitment to a middle-class society. (And by the way, do you think these people are going to vote Republican?)
During the first operational phase, identification, employment eligibility verification forms (I-9s) were examined for discrepancies indicating an illegal employee. Notification, the second phase, had INS providing employers with a list of suspect employees. The employers would then notify their employees of the INS findings. During interview phase, INS agents met with the employees to establish the validity of the discrepancies. When it found illegal aliens, INS began deportation proceedings. Every 45-90 days the process was repeated, examining employee records of new hires since the last audit.
In Nebraska, Operation Vanguard contacted 111 meatpacking and processing plants and investigated 24,148 employees. Of those, 36 plants had 4,495 employees with documentation discrepancies requiring INS interviews. In the aftermath, 3,152 workers simply left, 303 had excused absences or were no-shows, and the INS interviewed 1,042, of which 34 were eventually apprehended.
The good news is that Operation Vanguard proved that worksite enforcement is not only effective in reducing the number of illegal aliens working here, but also less disruptive to business owners and employees than skeptics claimed at the time—garnering praise from local law enforcement. The moment was short-lived though, as harsh criticism soon came from the governor, calling it “ill-advised in a state with such low unemployment and an already big problem with a shortage of labor.” Never mind the fact that “shortage” is a concept unknown to free-market economics – there are only things you can’t afford in as great a quantity as you want – and that the tight labor market he was complaining about was driving up the wages of the people of his state, something one would hope any governor would welcome. Operation Vanguard then officially went on hold as INS examined how to improve its central data clearinghouse. In the meantime, it has ceased all worksite enforcement.
Operation Vanguard highlighted the need for coordinated intelligence efforts with other agencies in deporting large illegal populations, such as with the Department of Labor, which doesn’t currently share data from its worksite inspections. Moreover, a better worker identification system is needed. In 1995, CIS floated the idea of a phone-in network for employers to match applicants with a national database of social security and INS information. While such a network would prove useful, state, local, county and city intelligence on illegal aliens must also be shared for any legitimate effort to remove illegal aliens. That information could then be further linked to an updated visa-tracking network equipped with thumbprint or other electronic identification data to locate overstays who then become illegal. Firmness towards illegals logically implies fairness towards legals, as a system rigorous enough to detect the former will also be accurate enough to vindicate the latter.
Local law enforcement is key. The 1996 Immigration Act provides for INS training in the location, arrest and detention of illegal aliens to state and local police. Effective deportation policy requires local police to be trained in such procedures and held liable for failure carry them out. As retired Border Patrol Agent Bill King told CIS:
“The lack of cooperation and communication between law enforcement agencies at the various levels of government has got to be overcome if the nation is serious about protecting the public from further terrorist attacks. As citizens, we have the right to expect the closest level of support between the various enforcement agencies and this is just not happening. And nowhere is it more apparent than what's happening with the City of Los Angeles Police Department special order 40, which expressly prohibits any cooperating with INS investigators or border enforcement authorities, to the point I understand where now even for a special agent or a Border Patrol agent to enter one of the several police buildings in the city, requires the permission of the station commander. This is absolutely ridiculous. They're not allowed to even share information relating to the illegal alien activity in that city and it's become -- if it isn't the illegal capital of this country, it's very close to it. But to me, any agency at any level of government that fails to cooperate, particularly in these times, should have any federal funding they're receiving revoked.”
Could the INS handle the surge in its workload resulting from a general deportation policy? Were a general deportation policy implemented today, the initial effort would undoubtedly yield a windfall of illegal aliens. However, adequate processing facilities would make the overflow of early apprehensions feasible. As recently as 1998, INS said that with 21,000 more detention spaces and 1,500 more employees, it could remove every criminal alien. According to a CIS report, this would require $652 million targeted at detention and removal. This is well under one-tenth of one percent of the federal budget.
The current deportation process is limited to incarcerated illegal aliens. It begins when INS identifies potentially deportable aliens in federal, state, or local prisons. Limited resources have led INS to avoid pursuing aliens on probation or suspended sentences, focusing instead on those whose prison sentences are nearly over. INS then detains the alien. After investigation, INS determines whether that alien is deportable. If the INS determines the alien is legal and poses no threat to the public, they are released. However, if the INS issues a deportation order, the criminal alien may contest it in immigration court.
During the immigration court trial phase, the alien must present cause for immunity from deportation. Acceptable immunity causes include political asylum and extreme family hardship. The potential deportee may appeal an adverse ruling through the Department of Justice, the federal courts and the Supreme Court. Felony deportees caught re-entering are subject to a 20-year prison sentence. A database of thumbprints from over 2 million deportees assists INS in identifying those who return illegally.
After the infrastructure with all necessary database systems online and linked to INS has been put in place, buttressed by the full-support of federal and state governments and law enforcement, the actual work of deportation becomes elementary. As in 1954, it would be a simple matter of rounding up, processing and removing them en masse by plane, train or ship. Unlike then, if an illegal alien should try to reenter the country, it would become known immediately upon apprehension. Those who overstay their visas and become illegal would be quickly identified and tracked down through a more comprehensive verification system.
The tools and the public support for general deportation are already here and its implementation, while coming with initial added costs, would more than pay for itself in reduced social services to illegal aliens. Nothing less than the concept of being a nation of laws is at stake, in addition to the other immigration issues of national security, cultural identity, preventing cheap labor, environmental protection, and the survival of the Republican Party itself.
And, lest we forget, the law is still the law.