The Obama administration spends more money on immigration enforcement than all other enforcement agencies combined, according to a report from the Migration Policy Institute. The report has gotten a lot of media attention this week.
* (Update: Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration noted in the National Review that the MPI authors acknowledged that they reached their conclusion by including all non-immigration-related spending to their Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement totals.)
Curiously, a Congressional Research Service report found that less than one-tenth-of-one percent of illegal workers are arrested in any given year. That report was leaked to the public late last year but received little attention.
There has been virtually no change in the number of illegal workers holding U.S. jobs since President Obama took office in 2009, according to the Pew Hispanic Center - a fact that is rarely seen in the media.
As the New York Times reported, the Migration Policy Institute report is an "opening salvo in a contentious debate over immigration." Advocates for amnesty and increased immigration point to the huge expenditures on enforcement, including high numbers of workplace audits and deportations, and conclude that the government has done everything it possibly can to stop illegal immigration. Except there are those pesky 7 million illegal workers holding U.S. jobs while 20 million citizens and legal immigrants can't find full-time work.
For all of the media's attention on expenditures and deportations and border security, it continues to downplay the key magnet for illegal immigration: jobs.
When Barbara Jordan testified before Congress in 1995 on behalf of her bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, she said, "one-half of the nation's illegal alien problem results from visitors who entered legally but who do not leave when their time is up. Let me tell you in three simple words why that is: they get jobs."
Jordan's explanation neatly explains how the Obama administration can spend approximately $18 billion on immigration enforcement and still fail to open up millions of jobs for America's unemployed. Whereas Jordan believed the jobs held by illegal workers rightfully belonged to citizens and legal immigrant workers, President Obama believes illegal workers who successfully violate immigration laws deserve to keep their jobs. The gulf between Jordan and Obama could not be wider.
Those of us who take Jordan's view believe that when the laws are enforced and the jobs magnet is removed, many illegal aliens will decide to stop violating U.S. immigration laws and return home. Advocates who take the president's view say attrition through enforcement is a fantasy, yet evidence to the contrary is readily available.
The Chicago Tribune recently told the story of the Barcenas family who came to the U.S. on tourist visas in 2004, not long after president Bush proposed his own large-scale amnesty. They overstayed their visas and the two boys went to public school while the parents illegally bounced from job to job. Over the years, the state of Illinois made illegal employment easier for the Barcenases by certifying the father to remove asbestos and passing a law to prohibit the use of E-Verify.
Nevertheless, in 2013, the family decided to go home. They realized they had not put their children in the best position to succeed. "Without a Social Security number? Without permission to work? We realized it's hard," the father told the Tribune. And so, despite living in a sanctuary state, despite the boys being eligible for two-year work permits under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and despite promises of a legalization bill this year, the Barcenas family made the decision to go home.
The Tribune never acknowledged that because of difficult job prospects, the Barcenas family "self deported," to use Mitt Romney's much-maligned phrase. However you describe the Barcenas' decision, the family validated Jordan's conclusion that illegal immigration will continue as long as those who violate immigration laws believe they can get jobs. Jordan's conclusion is as relevant today as it was in 1995. Immigration expansionists have good reasons to bury Jordan's wisdom and inconvenient truths that undermine their cause. The media, however, has a professional responsibility to report the whole truth.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Jan 10th 2013 @ 3:31pm EST