Because the United States has experienced high levels of illegal immigration across the Mexican border from the early 1970s until the onset of the recession in 2008, border security and enforcement have been the dominant focus for immigration policymaking over decades, especially since 9/11. With it came deep public skepticism about the government’s will and ability to enforce immigration laws.
As Congress and the president negotiate border security as part of a broad immigration reform bill, it’s important to recognize that we already have formidable immigration enforcement machinery at work in the U.S. interior, and at the borders and beyond, because of sustained bipartisan support over successive administrations.
In a report, we note that the federal government spent nearly $18 billion in fiscal 2012 on its two main immigration enforcement agencies, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and for its primary enforcement technology, United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology. That is 24 percent more than what was spent on all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies – the F.B.I., D.E.A., Secret Service, Marshal’s Service and A.T.F. — combined. In the 26 years since the Immigration Reform and Control Act ushered in the current era of immigration control policies, the nation has spent nearly $187 billion ($219 billion in 2012 dollars) on immigration enforcement.
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