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Currently, our country spends $18 billion each year on immigration enforcement, which is nearly $4 billion more than the combined budgets of the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, and ATF. President Trump hopes to substantially increase that annual number with his proposed heightened enforcement measures that result in more arrests, more ICE officers roaming our streets, airports, and courtrooms, more detentions, more deportations, and more wall. This essay begins by examining each of these measures that were outlined in the new executive orders and concludes that all are expensive, ineffective, unnecessary, and inhumane.

Just as being “Tough on Crime” was proven a waste of financial resources and human capital, so too are “Tough on Immigration” policies. In reforming the misguided immigration enforcement measures, there are three notable issues.

The first issue is that the new enforcement measures are a break from the past practices in that they implement enforcement practices without compassion and, result in unprecedented fear in immigrant communities. Although the level of cruelty is new, the objectives to pursue enforcement-only measures did not originate with President Trump. For the past 20 years, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) fundamentally changed immigration law by expanding who could be deported and cutting off numerous ways people used to earn status.

The second point is that even if President Trump were to leave office tomorrow, an enforcement-only immigration policy would not end. The legal framework has been pursued because of an underlying narrative that immigrants are harming the country and draining resources; however, this narrative is contrary to reality. Not only do immigrants contribute talents, pay taxes, and provide labor and skills otherwise unavailable, but immigrants uniquely contribute to our character as Americans. The continued pursuit of enforcement-only immigration policies will measure losses not only in the dollars spent but also by what collective and national values are lost.

The third is a more pragmatic intervention. The choice is not between the status quo and open borders. To the contrary, by repealing IIRIRA and updating enforcement with new technologies, we can return to a system that lets immigrants earn legal status through families, work, conduct, and contributions.


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6 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Civil Rights and Discrimination

    • Criminal Law

    • Immigration Law

    • Law Enforcement and Corrections

  • Journal title
    • Cardozo Law Review de novo

  • Volume
    • 2017

  • Pagination
    • 119-154

  • Date submitted

    6 September 2022