Comprehensive immigration reform, along with the fiscal cliff and sequester, has recently dominated Washington. But observers have overlooked how calls for stronger immigration enforcement could undermine the rights of not only immigrants, but also US citizens.
Conservative members of Congress have demanded tighter enforcement as a condition of considering meaningful reform of federal immigration policy. But enforcement-first immigration reform could wreak havoc with the fundamental liberties of citizens. If libertarians recognized how conservative policy proposals threaten their interests, the debate could shift dramatically.
What enhanced immigration enforcement could look like
Immigration enforcement takes primarily two forms: border security and interior enforcement. Each poses a threat to Americans who value their own freedom. The border security debate hides the most severe potential pitfalls, only because the privacy implications of interior enforcement have at least been discussed in public.
Many conservatives want to lock down our borders even more than our federal agencies already have. Yet American’s borders have never been more secure. In 2012, our government spent $18 billion on civil immigration enforcement, more than combined spending on all agencies that enforce criminal laws.
Proposals to further tighten border security have included increasing the deployment of domestic surveillance drones, expanding immigration checkpoints, building a fence, and adding more agents to the already bloated rosters of CBP and ICE.
Beyond border security is interior enforcement, which Bush and Obama both escalated, reflected in record numbers of deportations. Recent proposals emphasize technology: the controversial E-verify program to force employers to enforce federal immigration law, or similar programs like 287(g), Secure Communities, or the Next Generation Initiative, which co-opt local police and undermine public safety.
Whether at the border or within the US, the demand for tighter enforcement ignores reality: net migration across the southern border has already turned negative, driven by harsh profiling, alongside continuing stagnation in job growth, which has made immigration less economically attractive.
In other words, tighter border security and enhanced interior enforcement are unnecessary, at best. According to Marc Rosenblum from the Congressional Research Service, “additional investments at the border may be met with diminishing returns.”
Beyond diminishing returns, enhanced border security could prove nightmarish — not just for undocumented families, but also US citizens. Border security could diminish our own freedom to travel, while interior enforcement poses a covert threat to privacy.
Interior enforcement and the privacy of Americans