President Barack Obama alights in El Paso, Texas, tomorrow to present his vision of an immigration system that meets the economic and security needs of our nation in the 21st century. The president’s speech will undoubtedly focus on his administration’s achievements at boosting border security, and should provide an opportunity for him to present a careful assessment of what more is needed to ensure a functional border and sound immigration policy—something the American people overwhelmingly support, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
These security and economic arguments need to be made in the face of cynical assaults by anti-immigrant conservatives on the administration’s record—attacks designed to stymie the serious reform efforts we need to debate for the good of our country. Despite claims to the contrary, the Obama administration now boasts a record-breaking number of agents along the border with Mexico, working with now functioning technology based on wise investment decisions designed to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants.
As the Center for American Progress report “Brick by Brick” details, the Department of Homeland Security has met or exceeded nearly all the enforcement benchmarks that were part of the 2007 congressional debate. Yet anti-immigrant conservatives revert to slogans such as “border security first,” only to move the goal posts on what it means to secure the border whenever the administration achieves new milestones. CAP’s policy analysis “Border Security First: A Red Herring Undermining Real Security,” reveals the politically motivated and cynical nature of these conservative cries, which intentionally avoid the hard work required to fix our broken immigration system.
Indeed, their alternative—mass deportation—would cost U.S. taxpayers and our national economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year. A CAP report found that the Department of Homeland Security would have to spend $285 billion, or $23,148 per person, to arrest, detain and deport all of the unauthorized immigrants in our country, resorting to tactics that by any measure would be profoundly un-American.
In contrast, comprehensive immigration reform would be unarguably beneficial. CAP’s analysis of the economic benefits of legalizing undocumented immigrants now working here instead of their deporting them suggests a national difference of $ 2.6 trillion lost versus $1.5 trillion gained in cumulative GDP growth over 10 years. Arizona alone would see an increase of $1.68 billion in tax revenue if the state’s undocumented workers were legalized as opposed to a 10 percent loss in state income if they all had to leave the state.
President Obama and his administration recognize the importance of fixing our broken immigration system. We at the Center for American Progress look forward to his renewed push to implement comprehensive reform at that national level where implementation must happen. So, too, do the American people, who by nearly a four-to-one margin favor a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Angela Maria Kelley is Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about the Center’s policy proposals, go to our list of reports below and to the Immigration page on our website.