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WASHINGTON, D.C.–Today the Center for American Progress released the article “Hypocrisy Unmasked,” by Angela Kelley and Marshall Fitz, highlighting the hypocrisy of conservative efforts to hammer the president on border security issues, while simultaneously defunding border operations. The continuing resolution, or CR, proposal unveiled by House Republicans brings the conservative strategy on immigration into sharp focus: use the issue as a political cudgel to excite their restrictionist base while blocking all efforts to fix the system.
Conservatives have blocked progress on immigration reform for years with calls to “just enforce the law” and “secure the border first.” But the border and interior enforcement budgets have exploded and the government’s sustained commitment to immigration enforcement can no longer be reasonably questioned. Now, by substantially cutting border security funding in their CR proposal, conservatives demonstrate that their seemingly insatiable desire for more immigration enforcement was always about politics, never about solutions. That expanded enforcement infrastructure has brought tangible gains, but it has also bred more dysfunction because it was not coupled with sensible, systemic reforms.
Agencies’ annual budgets have spiked to historic levels while the undocumented population has stabilized or slightly increased. We now have three times more undocumented immigrants—5.2 percent of the workforce—than when the immigration enforcement buildup began, despite doubling down on the enforcement strategy over the last five years. Congress has dedicated unprecedented funding to the nation’s two primary immigration enforcement agencies—a combined $9.5 billion in fiscal year 2005—Immigration Customs and Enforcement, or ICE, and Customs and Border Protection, or CBP. This figure was increased by 80 percent to a combined $17.1 billion by FY 2010— $5.7 billion for ICE and $11.4 billion for CBP. That evidence alone should prove the policy limitations of an enforcement-only strategy.
Republican intransigence may put the broad immigration reform that our country ultimately needs politically out of reach in the near term. But one important legislative stepping stone would move us toward a lasting solution while enabling our enforcement agencies to maximize use of their resources. It couples the top-stated immigration enforcement priorities of House and Senate Republicans—universal electronic employment verification and border security enhancements—with the critical addition of a mandatory registration program that requires undocumented immigrants to pay back taxes, learn English, and earn legal status.
Though anathema to those conservatives who have made their political mark as immigration hardliners, those who want to actually solve the illegal immigration problem—rather than use it as a political football—would view these reforms as a way to enable our enforcement agencies to train their resources on shutting down the jobs magnet and identifying, arresting, and removing criminals who mean to do us harm. This set of reforms would help level the playing field for all workers and employers and restore the rule of law instead of continuing to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in enforcement that drives employers off the books and workers into the shadows—making our agencies far more effective, garnering broad national support, and addressing public concerns about everyone paying their fair share of taxes.
Ending illegal immigration is a national priority. But it is one that experience has shown cannot be achieved by simply throwing tens of billions of dollars at the problem. House Republicans have effectively acknowledged as much with their CR proposal. The inescapable conclusion is that conservatives are simply unwilling to debate realistic solutions to our immigration system. They would acknowledge that their strategy of mass deportation is fiscally irresponsible and economically self-defeating if they were serious about something more than demagoguing.
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Marshall Fitz is Director for Immigration Policy and Angela Kelley is Vice President for Immigration Policy at American Progress.