While election-year politics renders any chance of immigration reform dead for the foreseeable future, enforcement of immigration law is thriving.
There are two significant categories of enforcement statistics - apprehensions and returns, more commonly referred to as deportations.
Apprehensions are trending down, from 791,000 in 2008 to 516,000 in 2010. Most experts say the decrease is due to fewer aliens attempting to cross into the country illegally. The feds report nearly all of the decline is taking place on the Mexican border.
No doubt the sour U.S. economy has provided less incentive for aliens to risk their lives, and in some cases their life savings, to enter illegally. I suspect there's another reason illegal immigration flows are down. A look at the data shows enforcement of immigration laws is up - way up.
Final statistics aren't in yet, but already, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is bragging that the agency sent home 396,906 individuals in federal Fiscal Year 2011 which ended Sept. 30. That breaks the previous record of 365,195 deportations, set in FY 2009.
Who are they? Based on 2010 numbers, when 72 percent of illegal aliens returned were from Mexico, chances are the overwhelming number of those removed in 2011 were Mexican nationals as well.
To illustrate how dramatically things have changed in the enforcement arena, consider 2001, essentially the last year prior to the 9/11 attacks. In FY 2001, immigration removals were a mere 189,026. The Obama administration has clearly stated it will concentrate enforcement efforts on deporting the criminal element of the illegal immigrant population. The numbers bear out that commitment.
Of the 396,000-plus people returned last fiscal year, 216,698 were criminal aliens - defined as someone who has committed a crime in addition to illegal entry. That's a record and nearly double the 114,415 criminal deportations in FY 2008. For comparison, 71,079 criminal aliens were sent packing in 2001.
A closer look at the 216,698 criminal aliens deported last year shows the havoc they've wreaked on the country: 1,119 were convicted of homicide, 5,848 had committed sexual offenses, 35,927 were sentenced for drunken driving and 44,653 were sent away for drug offenses.
The increase in immigration enforcement shouldn't be a surprise. Since 2001, the feds have bulked up funding to four key programs that integrate local law enforcement agencies into immigration enforcement. The 287(g) program is the most well known, but it produces far fewer arrests than the Criminal Alien Program, the Secure Communities Program and National Fugitive Operations Program. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported last month that funding to these programs has nearly tripled during the last eight years, from $959 million to $2.5 billion.
All of these programs are active in North Carolina and, of course, they have their critics. Some say they erode the trust that must be built between the immigrant population and law enforcement, and that these programs can be used to deport illegal immigrants for relatively minor criminal offenses. The catch-all complaint is that these programs can lead to racial profiling.
CRS was not able to find statistical evidence of racial profiling, but noted that few good statistics are kept. CRS also noted that some procedures designed to protect against profiling are inadequate according to other auditing agencies. Regardless, the report commends ICE for continuing to take active steps to address racial profiling and other concerns levied, in particular, against the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.
If by some miracle immigration reform becomes part of the campaign debate, I hope the presidential and North Carolina gubernatorial candidates will point out that the call for more enforcement of existing laws is beyond the slogan stage. The real question for opponents of comprehensive reform is this: How much more enforcement is needed before they confront the issue factually and with intellectual honesty?