Aliens vs. Bureaucrats: Our Costly, Record-Breaking System for Dealing with Illegal Immigrants

Article excerpt

IF REP. MICHELE Bachmann (R-Minn.) is elected president, she promises to install two security fences wherever the land of the free meets the land of the willing-to-work-for-less-than-minimum-wage. And just in case you doubt Bachmann's commitment to redundancy, she says this double shot of steel-and-concrete contraception will cover "every mile, every foot, every inch" of our border with Mexico. Another GOP hopeful, Newt Gingrich, is doubling down on a border fence too, and like Bachmann he promises to complete it by 2013.

You can understand the urgency. In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended just 340,252 illegal immigrants, a mere 20 percent of its catch in 200% when the agency nabbed 1,676,438. It was the lowest total for alien snatching since 1971. In April 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that parts of the border have gotten so tranquil that agents are "encouraged to walk around or take coffee breaks" to keep from nodding off on the job. By 2014 there might not be enough aspiring day laborers to justify even one fence, much less two.

Which of course means there's a good chance two fences will get built, and possibly three. The war on illegal immigration is characterized by chronic uncertainty; no one knows exactly how many illegal immigrants reside in the U.S. or precisely what causes their numbers to wax and wane. What is clear, however, is that eliminating illegal immigration creates more and more bureaucratic infrastructure.

Currently there are two main agencies that deal with illegal immigration, both divisions of the Department of Homeland Security. One is U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). With 58,000 employees, including 43,600 sworn federal agents and officers, cap is the largest federal law enforcement agency. In less than a decade, its budget has nearly doubled, from $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2003 to $11.9 in FY 2012. In FY 2011 it devoted $3.5 billion just to border enforcement. The U.S. Border Patrol, a component of CPB, has grown fivefold since 1992, from 4,139 agents to about 21,444 in 2011.

The other bureaucracy is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). With more than 20,000 employees, ICE is the federal government's second largest investigative agency. It has an annum budget of more than $5.7 billion, up from $3.3 billion in FY 2003. In FY 2003 it had the capacity to detain 18,500 illegal aliens on any given day. Today, operating six detention facilities of its own and renting space from approximately 250 state and local jails, it can house 33,442.

In concert with the declining number of Border Patrol apprehensions, which the agency attributes to more manpower, better monitoring technologies, and the 650 miles offence that already exist, annual deportations are going up. In October, ICE announced it had given the boot to 396,906 illegal immigrants in FY 2011, "the largest number in the agency's history." It must have been an easy press release to write, as the agency has been free-tuning it for years now. In 2010 ICE announced it had removed "more illegal aliens [that year] than in any other period in the history of our nation." The year before was record setting too, as were 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, and 2003. According to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigrant Statistics (OIS), 2002 was the only year since 1992 that the federal government failed to set a new record for illegal alien removals.

Under President Barack Obama's direction, ICE has removed 1,179,313 illegal aliens in three years. George W. Bush presided over 2,012,539 removals during his eight-year reign. Despite this expensively enforced exodus of more than 3 million individuals since 2000, the estimated number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. hasn't changed much. The OIS reports that this population peaked at 11.8 million in 2007, dropped to 10.8 million in 2009, and stayed at 10.8 million in 2010. According to many experts, the drop-off from 2007 to 2009 was due in large part to the recession rather than enforcement efforts. …