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Report says U.S. must reassess its ‘enforcement-first’ mentality

President Obama's second term may bring much needed reform to immigration policies in the U.S., analysts say.

With President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address less than a week away, there will likely be many things that the chief executive of the United States will talk about in regards to what he intends to do in his second term in office. Already, he’s given indications that much of the next four years will be devoted to solving the immigration issue, which has served as an obstacle for many people who wish to move to the U.S. so they can send money to their families.

And while the country has taken some positive steps toward providing immigrants with various privileges and rights that they may not have had before, a recent report says that the U.S.’ “enforcement first” policy has for the most part been ineffective.

Recently, the Migration Policy Institute released a report called “Immigration Enforcement in the United States.” It chronicles how for more than 25 years, lawmakers and immigration officials have attempted to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants making their way into the country by passing various pieces of legislation, such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Billions have been devoted to unauthorized immigration removal
But in the 27 years since the IRCA was signed into law, officials have spent billions of dollars on ineffective policies that often alienate those who wish to live and work in the U.S. solely so they can provide for their families. For example, adjusted for inflation, $219 billion has been spent on immigration enforcement, which is more than all the money that’s spent on all the law enforcement agencies as a whole. This includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Office and several others.

And for the most part, the money that’s been devoted to thwarting undocumented immigration has had mixed results. For example, the report says that deportations, or removals, are now the norm instead of providing immigrants with an ability to leave voluntarily. This change in policy has led to a certain level of disaffection among immigration advocates.

Ultimately, the study concludes that the amount of money that’s been devoted to an enforcement-first mentality has not led to results that justify all that’s been spent.

“At what point does the infusion of additional resources lead to dwindling returns or unnecessarily impact other national interests and values?” the report asked. “Today, the facts on the ground no longer support assertions of mounting [undocumented] immigration and demands for building an ever-larger law enforcement bulwark to combat it.”

Instead, the researchers say that legislators need to more effectively balance enforcement with realistic laws that can be effectively carried out, which also supports the nation’s economic and labor market needs. Many people who come to the U.S. from foreign countries do so to work and their contribution may help improve the country’s economic state.

Recently, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that officials apprehended and removed nearly 410,000 people unauthorized to be here in the year 2012. Barely above half of those removed were convicted of crimes, meaning that many of those deported were law-abiding.

“[Among] the 409,849 deportations are hardened criminals for whom I have no sympathy,” said Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez in reference to ICE’s report. “But we must also realize that among these hundreds of thousands of deportations are parents and breadwinners and heads of American families that are assets to American communities and have committed no crimes.”

Gutierrez and researchers at MPI are hopeful that 2013 will be a positive year for immigration reform and affording the people who come to the U.S. with opportunities for growth.

Helpful links:

Migration Policy Institute: Immigration Enforcement in the United States

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