Immigration, Law Enforcement, and Border Security [Includes Video]
Shortly after taking office on January 20, 2001, President George W. Bush planned to get to work on immigration reform. As governor of Texas, he had seen first-hand the benefits of immigration. He had also seen the problems caused by undocumented immigration. President Bush spoke directly with Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, about creating a temporary guest-worker program. He believed this program would help reduce undocumented immigration. Both leaders also hoped it would lead toward larger immigration reform. When the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, took place, the program was shelved. It was never brought up again.
The September 11, or 9/11, attacks were a series of four coordinated strikes on the United States by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. Nineteen terrorists hijacked four planes. They flew two of them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. The fourth was headed toward Washington but was brought down in a field in Pennsylvania by passengers who overpowered the terrorists. All together, the attacks killed 2,977 people, and many more were injured.
The 9/11 attacks changed the way many Americans looked at immigration. All nineteen terrorists who carried out the attacks were foreign-born (fifteen in Saudi Arabia, two in the United Arab Emirates, one in Lebanon, and one in Egypt). They had been living in the United States on tourist or student visas. In at least four cases, those visas had expired. The attacks pointed out serious weaknesses in America's immigration system. It became clear that reforms were urgently needed in enforcement, visa processing, and information-sharing between immigration and law enforcement agencies. Many people inside and outside the government had known that America's immigration system was in trouble. Before September 11, 2001, this was considered an economic issue. After that date, immigration reform became a national security issue.
Federal Immigration Enforcement
The USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law by President Bush six weeks after the attacks. (The letters stand for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Page 79 | Top of ArticleTerrorism.) The act had wide support from both political parties. It was passed almost unanimously by the Senate and by a large majority in the House of Representatives. The Patriot Act was designed to protect the country from terrorism. It affected several government agencies and changed privacy laws affecting all Americans. The Patriot Act also had a major impact on immigration policy.
Before the Patriot Act, many duties of immigration policy were carried out by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Created in 1933, the INS had several tasks: it handled immigration at ports of entry, it prevented undocumented immigration, and it handled applications for residency, citizenship, and other immigration matters. The Patriot Act abolished the INS. Immigration duties were placed under the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
DHS answers directly to the president. Its mission is to prevent terrorism, protect the border, provide cybersecurity, prevent disasters, manage disasters that do occur, and administer immigration and customs. (“Customs,” when talking about immigration and international travel, refers to the place at an airport or a port where authorities check incoming people, luggage, and other goods.) During the transition from the INS to DHS, departments were reorganized with national security concerns in mind. The Customs Service, which previously was part of the Treasury Department, was moved to DHS. It was split into two agencies and linked with immigration duties. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took on the duties of protecting the border, monitoring customs Page 80 | Top of Articleduties for foreign arrivals, and enforcing immigration law. U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) took on naturalization duties and citizenship issues.
The Travel Ban and Terrorism Concerns
Federal officials have long been concerned about immigrants from certain countries with known ties to terrorism. Many incidents of terrorism in the United States and elsewhere in the world have had some connection to these nations. In some cases, the governments of these nations have actively supported terrorism, and have allowed hidden terrorist training bases to be set up there. On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an order to temporarily stop people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States. Those seven countries had been named by the previous administration, under President Barack Obama, as having known ties to terrorism. The goal was to review homeland security provisions, such as border and visa tracking, during the suspension of arrivals from those countries. People already in the United States from these countries would be reviewed by law enforcement to ensure they were not a national security threat.
The order met with a great deal of opposition. Protests sprang up almost immediately in cities around the country. People accused the president of being anti-Muslim Page 81 | Top of Articleand anti-immigrant. Many called the order a “Muslim ban.” On February 3, a federal judge stopped the order from being carried out. Trump issued a revised order in March. It removed Iraq from the list of nations, and made other adjustments on who should and should not be allowed to enter.
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parts of the revised travel ban could move forward. The justices pointed out that people with family ties, jobs, or educational commitments could be allowed into the country. “But, when it comes to refugees who lack any such connection to the United States, … the balance tips in favor of the Government's compelling need to provide for the Nation's security.” 1 Changes were made as to what defined family ties, although the definition remained somewhat unclear. The travel ban was challenged again in lower courts, with Trump's Justice Department again appealing the rulings.
The United States is bounded on its east and west by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Many travelers and immigrants arrive by air, and some by sea. The United States also has two borders it shares with other countries—to the north, with Canada, and to the south, with Mexico.
The border between the United States and Mexico is 1,960 miles (3155 kilometers) long. It is the tenth-longest border between two nations in the world. The U.S.–Mexico border is also the most frequently crossed border in the world. Most of it runs through harsh desert terrain. Its length and geography make it a challenge for Border Patrol agents. The Border Patrol and DHS use a mix of tools to secure the border. Each region along the border uses different security measures designed to meet its specific needs.
In total, there is roughly 350 miles (563 km) of pedestrian fencing (to keep out people on foot) and 300 miles (482 km) of vehicle fencing (to keep out people driving vehicles) along the southern border. There are over 300 fixed daylight and infrared cameras placed at various locations. There are also over 200 mobile vehicle cameras. More than 13,000 fixed Page 85 | Top of Articleground sensors track the movement of people. The CBP also uses manned and unmanned aircraft to watch over areas of the border not easily reached by vehicles on the ground.
The use of these tools reduced unauthorized border crossings sharply between 2005 and 2011. The peak year for unauthorized border crossings was 2000, when 1.6 million were caught. In 2016, 193,000 Mexicans were caught trying to cross the border. The decline demonstrates that Mexicans are deterred from crossing because of increased border security. When critics say that the budgets for the CBP and DHS have been expanded too much, officials use these numbers to justify them. CBP funding has doubled to $13.2 billion since 2003. ICE spending has almost doubled during that time frame as well. Its budget is now $6.1 billion. 2
Tighter border security has done more than reduce border crossings. It has also reduced violence and crime in the region. Border cities such as El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, California, are listed among the safest cities in the country according to the FBI. However, some businesses, ranchers, and people who live along the border have complained that law enforcement has disrupted communities. Some also fear that undocumented immigrants will find other, more dangerous places to cross.
Over the years, politicians have discussed putting up a fence or wall along much of the U.S.–Mexico border. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the idea of a Page 86 | Top of Articleborder wall became a major issue. Trump promised to build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and terrorists out of the country. As of 2017, Republican members of Congress were generally in favor of funding the wall (or a partial wall, or fence), but Democrats were opposed to it.
Note: Don't Know responses not shown
Cost estimates for building a wall along portions of the border that are currently without barriers run between $15 billion and $25 billion. Steven A. Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies told a House subcommittee on national security that the wall could “pay for itself” in ten years. The Center for Immigration Studies made this estimate based on calculations of how much each undocumented immigrant costs taxpayers in government services, multiplied by the number of people (roughly 170,000) who come across the border each year. According to the center's calculations, the wall could save taxpayers over $60 billion over a decade. 3
Opponents of the wall have criticized it as being both anti-immigrant and ineffective. The California Senate passed a bill that would block the state from working with any firms to construct the wall on state land. Opponents suggest that existing barriers and policing Page 87 | Top of Articlehave already done a good job at deterring unauthorized crossings. They point to the reduced number of arrests as proof. Jorge Ramos, a Mexican-born American journalist, told CNN that just the threat of the wall will deter crossings. “Let me just say that fear is stronger than any wall. What we are seeing right now is the ‘Trump effect,’” Ramos said. “It's people calling their relatives and their friends in Latin America and saying, ‘Don't come here. This is not the right moment.’ I think it is positive, really. No one wants illegal immigration, even undocumented immigrants. It is very risky for them. It's better to do it in a legal way.” 4
The Argument over Deportation
One issue in the debate over immigration is U.S. government policy on deportations of undocumented immigrants. Anyone in the United States who performs a criminal act or in some other way violates their visa, can be deported. The federal government also has the right to deport anyone in the country without travel documents or with forged documents. During President Barack Obama's administration, from 2009 to 2017, there was a record number of deportations. During those years, Page 89 | Top of Article5.3 million undocumented immigrants were deported. 5 As a percentage of the total undocumented immigrant population, more people were deported during the Obama presidency than during any previous presidency.
After Trump became president, DHS expanded the list of criminal offenses for which undocumented immigrants can be deported. This is likely to deter unauthorized border crossings. The DHS changes may also prompt some undocumented immigrants to leave the country voluntarily. The American Civil Liberties Union reported in 2013 that one in four Hispanics reported knew someone who had been deported or detained (held by authorities) the previous year. 6
In 2015 cities around the country began stating that their local police forces would not cooperate with federal immigration agents. This was a form of protest against widespread detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants. Cities with large immigrant populations such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit were among the first to declare themselves as sanctuaries (places of safety) for undocumented immigrants. They became known as sanctuary cities. The list of such cities grew rapidly. ICE reported that over 300 state and local jurisdictions were refusing to honor ICE detention requests. 7
In August 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would hold back federal enforcement funding for sanctuary cities. “By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe,” Sessions said. 8
Local officials and police in sanctuary cities claim that tougher federal enforcement keeps undocumented immigrants in the shadows. This makes them reluctant to help police in criminal investigations. They also do not report crimes against themselves for fear of being deported. Some supporters of sanctuary cities believe that deportations of undocumented immigrants are often unfair. Critics of sanctuary cities argue that they are interfering with law and order. Some crimes by undocumented immigrants, they say, could have been prevented if the perpetrators had been deported.
Immigrants and Crime
There is a great deal of debate about whether higher rates of undocumented immigration lead to more crime. Cases that attract national media coverage give the appearance that there is a link. One such case was the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle, a thirty-two-year-old San Francisco woman who was shot by an undocumented immigrant while she was walking on a pier. Research suggests, however, that there is little connection between undocumented immigrants and violent crime. “From the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, the country's undocumented population doubled to roughly 12 million,” writes Jason Riley in a Wall Street Journal column. “Over the same period violent crime in the U.S. fell by more than a third, and property crime dropped more than 25 percent, including in border cities … [that] are home to large numbers of illegal immigrants.” 9
Undocumented immigration is linked to crime in part because immigrants are involved with smugglers in crossing the border. Drug dealers from Mexico have been known to force immigrants to carry drugs as a price for helping them across the border. Immigrants sometimes forge documents and engage in other fraud in order to secure jobs in the United States.
Percentages include both criminals and non-criminals
There appears to be little evidence, however, that immigration increases crime. Jennifer Doleac of the University of Virginia writes, “Studies using different data sources and approaches have also concluded that immigrants are generally less likely to commit crimes, and that—as a result—changes in immigration rates have Page 92 | Top of Articlelittle or no effect on public safety.” 10 There is also no clear link to crime in cities with large immigrant populations. This includes immigrants who have lower levels of education and live in poor urban areas. Although lack of education and poverty are often factors that lead to higher crime rates, in some cases crime has decreased in these neighborhoods. This may be because immigrant groups tend to be close-knit.
Those who call for stricter enforcement of immigration law are not persuaded by these numbers. In their view, studies that show no link between crime rates and immigration combine unauthorized and legal immigrants. Hans A. von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation writes, “The issue isn't non-citizens who are in this country legally, and who must abide by the law to avoid having their visas revoked or their application for citizenship refused. The real issue is the crimes committed by illegal aliens.” 11 Von Spakovsky relies on statistics in a Government Accountability Office report from 2011. That report found that criminal undocumented immigrants from Mexico make up 68 percent of federal prisoners and 66 percent of state prisoners, with most arrests occurring in the border states of California, Arizona, and Texas. 12 Data published by the Department of Justice in 2017 showed that 24 percent of the federal prison population is foreign-born. Of that group, 90 percent are in the United States illegally. 13
Immigration Court Reform
An area of immigration enforcement that is not often discussed is the immigration court system. Immigration courts handle cases that involve undocumented immigrants, visa violations, deportations, and refugees seeking asylum. The immigration court system is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. In the spring of 2017 there was a backlog of 585,930 immigration cases. 14 Attorney General Sessions announced a plan in April 2017 to hire more immigration judges to hear cases. It will take time to put these judges in place.
Immigration lawyers argue that the long wait to have cases heard is one of many issues that obstruct the rights of immigrants trying to enter the country in a lawful way. Lack of proper language services and skilled legal representation are also a problem. In some cases, immigrants go to court with no lawyer at all. On the other side of the immigration debate, those who call for better enforcement say the backlog is harmful because it makes enforcement of immigration law nearly impossible.
Those who call for better immigration enforcement blame President Obama for the backlog. As Von Spakovsky points out, before Obama Page 94 | Top of Articlebecame president, there was a backlog of 186,000 cases. By the time he left office, the backlog had risen to 542,000 cases. The claim is that changes in process slowed down court cases. Obama's critics also blame a policy called “catch and release.” DHS would “catch” undocumented immigrants and give them court dates, but then “release” them while waiting for the trial. In 2016, 39 percent of undocumented immigrants who were free while waiting for trial failed to show up for their hearing. 15 President Trump ended catch and release. But the huge backlog of cases means immigrants awaiting trial could be sitting in a cell for months or years. Critics claim that Trump's vow to be tough on immigration enforcement may make the backlog worse.
A concern among immigration lawyers is that new judges will be focused on clearing the backlog without concern for the circumstances of individual cases. This approach could threaten individuals' right to a fair trial. Immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks argues that the way immigration courts are being told to handle their caseload is a serious problem. “We need to assure that due process is provided in our courts,” she says. 16 Supporters of tougher immigration policy don't see this as an issue. Von Spakovsky writes, “America has a well-organized immigration court system that can help secure our borders and remove violators while also redeeming the persecuted. But it works only if it has enough judges to handle its cases and if illegal aliens are detained, so they actually show up for court.” 17
The backlog of cases in immigration courts and the application of federal law has led to heated debate between groups calling for less or more immigration. The arguments they give to state their case often goes back to the point that the immigration system is poorly managed Page 95 | Top of Articleand strained beyond its ability to function. Both sides can at least agree on the fact that immigration would benefit greatly from reform.
1. Dinan, Stephen. “Trump Applauds Supreme Court, Feels ‘Gratified’ by Ruling to Revive Travel Ban.” Washington Times, June 26, 2017 . http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jun/26/supreme-court-revives-trump-travel-ban/ .
2. American Immigration Council. “The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security.” January 25, 2017. https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/the-cost-of-immigration-enforcement-and-border-security .
3. Camarota, Steven A. “Can a Border Wall Pay for Itself?” Center for Immigration Studies. April 25, 2017. https://cis.org/Can-Border-Wall-Pay-Itself .
4. Ernst, Douglas. “Univision's Jorge Ramos: ‘Trump Effect’ Driving Down Illegal Immigration.” Washington Times, March 10, 2017. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/10/jorge-ramos-trump-effect-driving-down-illegal-immi/ .
5. Chishti, Muzaffar, Sarah Pierce, and Jessica Bolter. “The Obama Record on Deportations: Deporter in Chief or Not?” Migration Policy Institute. January 26, 2017. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/obama-record-deportations-deporter-chiefor-not .
6. American Civil Liberties Union. “ACLU Framework for Immigration Reform.” May 2013. https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-framework-immigration-reform .
7. Bedard, Paul. “ICE chief: 80% Jump in Illegal Targets, Readies National ‘Sanctuary’ Crackdown.” Washington Examiner, July 18, 2017. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/ice-chief-80-jump-in-illegal-targets-readies-national-sanctuary-crackdown/article/2629001 .
8. Lucas, Fred. “Jeff Sessions Warns Sanctuary Cities About Missing Out on Help to Fight Crime.” Daily Signal, August 3, 2017. http://dailysignal.com/2017/08/03/jeffsessions-warns-sanctuary-cities-missing-anti-crime-help/ .
9. Riley, Jason L. “Seeking Their Own Refuge, Sanctuary Cities Go to Court.” Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/seeking-their-ownrefuge-sanctuary-cities-go-to-court-1487116166 .
10. Jennifer Doleac. “Are Immigrants More Likely to Commit Crimes?” EconoFact.org , February 14, 2017. http://econofact.org/are-immigrants-more-likely-to-commit-crimes .
11. Von Spakovsky, Hans A. “Crimes by Illegal Aliens, Not Legal Immigrants, Are the Real Problem.” Heritage Foundation. June 4, 2017. http://www.heritage.org/immigration/commentary/crimes-illegal-aliens-not-legal-immigrants-are-the-realproblem .
12. Von Spakovsky, “Crimes by Illegal Aliens, Not Legal Immigrants, Are the Real Problem.”
13. Cohen, Kelly. “More than 90 Percent of Foreign-Born Federal Prison Inmates Are Illegal Immigrants.” Washington Examiner, May 2, 2017. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/more-than-90-percent-of-foreign-born-federal-prisoninmates-are-illegal-immigrants/article/2621872 .
14. Von Spakovsky, Hans A. “How to Get Our Immigration Courts Back to Enforcing Federal Law.” Heritage Foundation. May 18, 2017. http://www.heritage.org/immigration/commentary/how-get-our-immigration-courts-back-enforcing-federal-law .
15. Von Spakovsky, Hans A. “How to Get Our Immigration Courts Back to Enforcing Federal Law.”
16. Lovelace, Ryan. “Immigration Judge Laments Lack of Due Process in Immigration Courts.” Washington Examiner, June 9, 2017. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/immigration-judge-laments-lack-of-due-process-in-immigration-courts/article/2625485 .
17. Von Spakovsky, “How to Get Our Immigration Courts Back to Enforcing Federal Law.”