Enforce the immigration laws we've got
By Lou Dobbs
(CNN) -- The United States is facing an extraordinary immigration crisis, but our solutions have done nothing to alleviate the situation. The overburdened Border Patrol and local law enforcement, particularly in the Southwest, are apprehending thousands of illegal aliens on immigration violations every day. Yet surprisingly, many of those arrested are freed shortly after their detainment.
Many illegal aliens are no longer held in jails to await deportation or processing. Rather, they are simply handed a notice to appear in court and released into the country. As you'd probably expect, somewhere between 70 and 90 percent never show up for their court date. Even Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, admits that nearly half a million people have been arrested and released, and have failed to show up for court.
Local law enforcement and Border Patrol agents say the issue is one of resources, that federal agencies have limited funds for detention and deportation. Instead, their focus has primarily been shifted to illegal aliens who have committed or are wanted for crimes. But even so, 85,000 of those released into the United States are known criminals. So much for the plan to target criminal aliens for deportation.
But Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, blames the lack of enforcement on political issues, rather than practical ones. "The problem with immigration has always been the same: It's very heavily penetrated by very powerful interest groups, and that makes it very hard to enforce the law," he said. "The ethnic advocacy groups provide the moral outrage and racial politics, while the business community provides the political influence, the big guns and the big money to prevent law enforcement."
It's a problem that needs a real solution, however, whether it be practical or political. There are as many as 12 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States, about half of them emigrating from Mexico. The direct net cost of illegal immigration to our economy, including social services, is now roughly $45 billion annually, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Those costs to the American taxpayer have more than doubled since Dr. Donald Huddle's original study in 1996. And they will continue to grow unless we reform our approach to illegal immigration.
There is one new tactic from the U.S. government, but it'll be a while until we see real results. The government has launched a controversial new program to fly some illegal aliens deep into Mexico, instead of merely dropping them off at the border. Homeland Security officials say the program is designed to save lives and break the smuggling cycle. The United States has approved about $12 million for this voluntary repatriation program to run through September, with each chartered flight costing American taxpayers almost $30,000.
This is step in the right direction, but still, there's no guarantee this program will work at all. While this may deter some, a few of those interviewed following this week's maiden voyage said that they'll just try to get back into the United States as soon as they can.
Camarota believes the new program might be effective, seeing as how part of our immigration problems starts south of the border. "Mexico has no incentive, no interest and no capacity to in any way prevent illegal immigration into the United States," he said. "Given that reality, it's always a question of how is it you prevent people from coming back. You don't want a situation where you just dump them over the border and they just try again."
No, we certainly do not want a situation like that. But what we want couldn't be simpler: We want the current administration and both political parties to take this problem seriously, to enforce the laws already on the books and to create a national immigration policy that will secure both our borders and a healthy future for our country.