New targets needed for immigration enforcement

We are seeing deeper divides in the streets, in protests which are getting more filled with clashes, hate and violence. Much of the division seems to involve skin color, ethnicity and how “American” they are; who is really “American,” and who is allowed to be an “American.”

Over the last decade, the issue of illegal immigration and what to do with the “illegals” in our country has been front and center in our political debate. Currently, we have approximately 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.

Whether the illegal immigrant is a law-abiding person or a gang member is of no consequence under our immigration laws. Both classes of people have committed a federal crime by entering the U.S. without authority. The penalties for illegal entry may include years in jail as well as deportation.

America’s undocumented immigrant problem is based on the simple economic principle of supply and demand, coupled with a lack of enforcement of existing laws. American businesses demand low-cost labor and that promotes an influx of undocumented workers to our country. For example, American agriculture relies heavily on illegal immigrants to keep the industry cost-effective and sustainable. Fifty percent of hired crop farmworkers are not legally authorized to work in the United States , and almost 70 percent of hired crop farmworkers are from Mexico.

Employers have ignored, or even looked the other way when it comes to adhering to our immigration laws. Couple that with the fact that government enforcement of employers has been spotty. According to The Washington Times, “Through the first five months of this [2015] fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted just 181 workplace audits and brought charges against only 27 employers, putting it on pace for fewer than 500 audits and just 65 arrests this year. That’s less than 15 percent of the total audits conducted in 2013.” The downward trend is alarming.

In the 1990s, there was a lower number of audits than today; but the government issued more final orders against employers who engaged in these illegal hiring practices. While the political rhetoric is pervasive, the backbone to deal with the root of the problem is lacking. Locking up individuals misses the mark and puts a Band-Aid on a problem requiring surgery. While throwing on handcuffs helps satisfy the populist base, this policy is nothing more than a show of immediate authority lacking a long-term solution.

As expected, President Donald Trump hit the ground running with his enforcement regime by utilizing raids to round up illegal immigrants. As quickly as February of this year, there were 678 people arrested in 12 states. Only seventy-four percent of those arrested had criminal convictions.

President Trump still intends to build a wall to secure our southern border and control the influx of undocumented immigrants. While controlling our borders is critical, the solution is not to round up all the “bad hombres.” That would be a logistical, legal and financial nightmare. It costs $126.46 per day to house a person in an immigration detention center. Over the course of a typical month-long detention, this comes out to almost $3,800.

That is just for housing the people that we catch. What about the cost of investigation, arrest, court, appeal, etc. The American Action Forum estimated that it would cost American taxpayers between $100 billion and $300 billion to remove all of our undocumented immigrants. The cost gets closer to half a trillion dollars when taking into account the increased enforcement costs to ensure that the deported immigrants cannot re-enter the United States. This is all in addition to the cost of the “wall.”

Instead, we need to spend our resources to combat the source of why so many come to the U.S. illegally.

Government needs to vigorously investigate and prosecute employers who hire illegals. If there are decreased prospects for employment, undocumented immigrants will have less incentive to enter the U.S. without authority.

Manubir “Manny” Arora is an Atlanta defense attorney, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and a former Assistant District Attorney in Fulton County.