Immigration Enforcement

Enforcement of current immigration laws is a political prerequisite for immigration reform, whatever direction that reform is supposed to go. This is one of the points made by Peter Schuck in a dispassionate, informative piece on immigration in The American Interest. He cites the work of David Martin, whom he describes as “probably the country’s leading immigration scholar and a liberal immigration reform advocate with high-level agency experience.”

Martin points to “this crucial but often-ignored political link between a more expansive immigration policy and public perception of enforcement effectiveness. . . . Martin shows how weak enforcement almost always leads the public to demand harsh, often ill-advised restrictions that actually magnify enforcement failures, stymie useful reforms, and make expanding legal impossible.”

Martin offers a number of specific proposals: “Correctly noting that interior enforcement is the ‘weakest part’ of our system, he urges shifting some resources from the Border Patrol to identifying and apprehending overstays and those who enter without inspection, emphasizing that collecting biometric information for exit verification is insufficient without other enforcement changes.”

If immigration restrictionists want enforcement, and enforcement is also necessary for expanding immigration, you’d think we’d be able to come to a consensus. One of the strengths of Schuck’s article is to explain the barriers to solving hot-button policy issues like immigration. Hard policy issues are “usually national in scope or importance,” and therefore not resolvable at the state or local level; they “are highly salient to the public,” “historically inflected,” and “turn partly on complex empirical disputes that current knowledge cannot authoritatively resolve”; besides, “they engender deep normative debates” and “are severely constrained by a legacy of politically entrenched interests, poorly performing programs, and political commitments.”

All this makes it difficult to resolve the immigration issue, even on those points where everyone’s interests converge. 

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