Following Judge Susan Bolton's decision to block the controversial portions of the Arizona immigration law, conservative media have claimed that Arizona passed the law because the federal government is refusing to enforce immigration law and secure the border, but this rhetoric -- which directly echoes that of Republican politicians -- bears no relation to the facts. Data show federal enforcement efforts are up and illegal immigration is down.
Conservative media echo Gov. Brewer's claim that federal government is not enforcing immigration laws
Brewer: "We have now been told" that "they're just not going to enforce their laws." On the July 28 broadcast of Fox News' Hannity (accessed via Nexis), Arizona governor Jan Brewer said of the preliminary injunction, "We now have been told by a federal judge and by the federal government that they're just not going to enforce their laws. And they're not going to allow Arizona to help them enforce their laws."
Hannity: "[T]he president is not doing his job in securing the border." On the July 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity hosted NPR correspondent Juan Williams to discuss border security (accessed via Nexis):
HANNITY: People are not respecting our laws in sovereignty. It's impacting states like Arizona, Texas, California, and others, and the president is not doing his job in securing the border.
WILLIAMS: In other words, all these people who are hiring the gardeners, the nannies --
HANNITY: Close the border. This is not an issue. Close the border. Secure the border.
Lowry: Obama administration refuses to "take the federal law seriously." Rich Lowry stated on the July 28 edition of Fox News' America Live: "This is the brilliance of the Arizona law, though. It has smoked out the federal government's position. The Obama administration is saying we cannot be forced to enforce the laws as they are on the books. The Obama administration is saying the Arizona law pre-empts the whole legal scheme because it actually takes the federal law seriously and we refuse to do that. Please do not bother to call us up if you find an illegal alien in Arizona because we're too busy. That is an outrageous position."
Dobbs: AZ passed law because "federal government refuses to carry out its responsibility." On the July 29 edition of Fox News'America's Newsroom, guest Lou Dobbs said that the Arizona law passed because the "federal government refuses to carry out its responsitibility. From America's Newsroom:
DOBBS: If states cannot maintain law and order within their own jurisdictions while the federal government refuses to carry out its responsibility - one of the most laughable aspects of this was the Department of Homeland Security yesterday, their spokesman talking about this validates the responsibility of the federal government for enforcement of immigration law. It is precisely their failure to enforce and to carry out now, by the own acknowledgement, their responsibility for enforcement that led to this measure being passed by the Arizona legislature and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in the first place.
Carlson: "[I]nstead of really focusing on securing the border, they decided to sue the state of Arizona." On the July 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson said "To me this puts the onus, of course, back on the Obama administration and the federal government because now instead of really focusing on securing the border, they decided to sue the state of Arizona. Well now that they actually won on these major points, now the American people are going to say, all right, so now you do something about it."
Fox & Friends mocks DOJ statement that border security efforts are "unprecedented." Fox & Friends later discussed the Department of Justice's response to the ruling, in which the DOJ stated that the administration "has dedicated unprecedented resources to that effort." Fox & Friends expressed skepticism of this and asked viewers, "Do you agree with that? Let us know. ...Have they dedicated unprecedented resources to that effort of securing the border?" From Fox & Friends:
CARLSON: Part of the Department of Justice statement after they won this ruling, they said this, "This administration takes its responsibility to secure our borders seriously and has dedicated unprecedented resources to that effort."
DOOCY: Oh, thank goodness.
CARLSON: Do you agree with that? Let us know. Do you agree with what the Department of Justice said? Have they dedicated unprecedented resources to that effort of securing the border?
BOLLING: Is that a number, unprecedented?
CARLSON: Well we've heard unprecedented a lot from this administration, but once again -
DOOCY: Gretchen, if they say - if they're saying it. It's got to be true. It's got to be true.
Facts on immigration enforcement, border security expose rhetoric as disingenuous and misleading
There are currently more Border Patrol agents "than ever before in the history of this country." PolitiFact has noted that Obama has been "increasing the number of border patrol officers." Indeed, in a July 22 hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Michael Fisher, Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, stated, "Currently we have over 20,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide, more than ever before in the history of the country." A Customs and Border Protection document states that the 2010 budget included $19.4 million for 123 new Border Patrol agents and support staff. The Obama administration's 2011 budget states, "An increase of $44.8M is requested to fund 318 Custom and Border Protection Officers FTEs [Full-Time Equivalent] within the Office of Field Operations and 71 support FTEs for CBP." From the Arizona Republic:
Spending on immigration enforcement higher under Obama than Bush. Budget data from the Department of Homeland Security compiled by America's Voice, which advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, show that the budgets for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement increased under Obama:
Obama admin. significantly expanded Border Enforcement Security Task Forces. Politico reported on May 6 that "[u]nder the Southwest Border Initiative, the Obama administration has doubled agents assigned to the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces." According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), these teams "incorporate personnel from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other key federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies" to "collaborate and share information to fulfill the overarching goal: to interrupt the flow of cash, weapons and ammunition that fuel the illicit trade of the drug cartels."
ICE official: "There has been a lot of action" on enforcement in the last few years. James Dinkins, director of the Office of Investigations at ICE stated in a July 22 Congressional hearing: "This committee and - and the federal government have given ICE a lot of resources. And just this last year we've sent 160 additional agents to the southwest border alone, so we have done great. We've been receiving funding for border enforcement security task forces, BEST task forces. Ten of those are on the southern border, so there has been a lot of action in the last - the last few years, absolutely."
Bush DHS official: "By any measure it is now much more difficult to enter the United States illegally." Stewart Verdery, former DHS Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy from 2003-2005, wrote in a June report that "many of the enforcement benchmarks set out by the Senate during the last CIR [comprehensive immigration reform] debate have been met, and several additional enforcement programs have been implemented above and beyond the Senate mandates of the 2007 CIR bill. By any measure it is now more difficult to enter the United States illegally." Verdery outlined the improvements that have been made in border enforcement in recent years and stated:
DHS has requested, and Congress has provided, large and increasing budgets for immigration enforcement programs since 2005 on a bipartisan basis that includes both the Bush and Obama administrations and Republican- and Democratic controlled Congresses. The department has spent billions on enforcement while making great strides in gaining control over our borders and bringing integrity to our immigration system.
Obama admin. increased number of intelligence analysts on border. Politico stated that the Obama administration "tripled the number of intelligence analysts along the southwest border" and "sent in new canine teams." The Department of Homeland Security announced these increases in March 2009.
Obama admin. began screening "100 percent of southbound rail shipments." Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 27, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that "for the first time ever, the Border Patrol is screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for cartel-related contraband. This practice augments the longstanding practice of screening 100 percent of northbound rail shipments."
Seizures of contraband increased under Obama administration. In her April 27 Senate testimony, Napolitano stated:
Since March 2009, CBP and ICE have seized $85.7 million in illicit cash along the Southwest border, an increase of 14 percent over the same period during the previous year. This includes more than $29.7 million in illicit cash seized heading southbound into Mexico -- a 39 percent increase over the same period during the previous year.
During the same period, CPB and ICE together seized 1,425 illegal firearms, which represent a 29 percent rise over the same period in the previous year. At the same time, CBP and ICE seized 1.65 million kilograms of drugs along the Southwest border, an overall increase of 15 percent.
Additionally, the San Diego DHS Maritime Unified Command -- comprised of U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, ICE and other law enforcement partners -- saw a more than six-fold increase in maritime drug interdictions in the Pacific waters extending from the Southwest border. The Command seized more than 26,000 kilograms of drugs in fiscal year 2009, compared to 4,029 kilograms seized in fiscal year 2008.
NY Times: ICE "has levied a record $3 million in civil fines" "on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants." The New York Times reported on July 9, "Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures." The Times article stated:
Employers say the audits reach more companies than the work-site roundups of the administration of President George W. Bush. The audits force businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on the payroll-- not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid -- and make it much harder to hire other unauthorized workers as replacements.
Wash. Post: "Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants." The Washington Post reported on July 26 that "the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants" and "The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency expects to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration's 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007."
The number of unauthorized immigrants removed from the U.S. by ICE excluding voluntary returns also hit a record high in fiscal year 2009, according to DHS:
Number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has declined. CBS News reported on February 11, "The Department of Homeland Security reported that illegal immigrant population dropped to 10.8 million in 2009 compared to 11.6 million in 2008. It was the second consecutive annual decline and the largest in at least three decades." CBS also reported that officials credited the recession and "unprecedented resources" that have been committed to immigration enforcement for the decline. From DHS:
WSJ: Data shows trend of decreasing attempts to cross border illegally. The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2009 that "[t]he number of people caught illegally entering the U.S. dropped by more than 23% during the past year, continuing a longer trend, federal data shows" and that "Border apprehensions have fallen nearly 67% decline since fiscal year 2000, when the border patrol made 1,675,438 arrests." The Journal further reported:
The government and independent experts say there is a strong correlation between apprehensions and the number of people attempting to cross the border, especially with the sharp increase in enforcement in recent years.
David Aguilar, the border-patrol chief, says the newest data show U.S. investments in personnel, equipment and technology are creating a strong deterrent. "We have the right mix at the right places and in the right time," he says.
Economists say the souring U.S. jobs market is a driving force behind the decline in illegal crossings. The U.S. unemployment rate last month passed 10% for the first time since the early 1980s. Fewer jobs -- especially in trades such as construction, where migrant workers fare well -- mean fewer people are willing to risk a journey that has become more perilous and more expensive, experts say.
From the Wall Street Journal:
ABC analysis: Reality on border doesn't match "political rhetoric" about border "mayhem." On May 20, ABC News reported that, "while several violent high-profile incidents in the Tucson, Arizona, sector have gained national attention and colored political rhetoric, an ABC News analysis of immigration and crime data, combined with interviews with law enforcement officials, shows something very different -- that violence and crime on the U.S. side of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico are generally on the decline."
LA Times: Obama admin. "has outdone its predecessor on border enforcement spending and on deportations." The Los Angeles Times reported on June 15 that Obama "agree[d] to dispatch 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and to seek an extra $500 million for border enforcement. That came after 18 months in which the Obama administration has outdone its predecessor on border enforcement spending and deportations of illegal immigrants, all in an effort to build support for a comprehensive immigration plan."
Pima County sheriff: "The border has never been more secure." The Arizona Republic reported on May 2 that Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, stated: "I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."
Republican AZ sheriff: "[W]e keep the pressure on because ... the window of opportunity will close." The Republic further reported that "Even Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, among the most strident critics of federal enforcement, concedes that notions of cartel mayhem are exaggerated." The article stated:
In fact, according to the Border Patrol, Krentz is the only American murdered by a suspected illegal immigrant in at least a decade within the agency's Tucson sector, the busiest smuggling route among the Border Patrol's nine coverage regions along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Still, Dever said, the slaying proved useful to southern Arizonans who are sick of smugglers and immigrants tramping through their lands.
"The interest just elevated. And we keep the pressure on because next week something else is going to happen, and the window of opportunity will close," Dever said.
AP: "The US-Mexico border is more fortified now than it was even five years ago." A June 23 Associated Press article noted: "You wouldn't know it from the public debate, but the U.S.-Mexico border is more fortified now than it was even five years ago. Far more agents patrol it, more fences, barriers and technology protect it and taxpayers are spending billions more to reinforce it."
Richard Stana of Government Accountability Office: "[I]t's not accurate that nothing has been done." Testifying before Congress about a GAO report that makes recommendations for improvements to ICE human smuggling investigations, Richard Stana noted, "The government has put countless billions of dollars into border enforcement - you know, more people, fencing, cameras, sensors and so on. ... And of course, being from the GAO, were always looking for opportunities to do things better, and there are opportunities to do things better. But it's not accurate that nothing has been done." (accessed via Nexis)
Immigration policy experts agree that border security ultimately requires broader reform of immigration laws
Immigration policy expert: Comprehensive reform "will make the border more manageable." The Arizona Republic reported: "Susan Ginsburg, senior policy adviser for an international nonprofit known as Borderpol, which works to make international borders safer, said it is a mistake to require border control as a prerequisite for changing U.S. policies because the existing system created a broken border in the first place. 'Comprehensive immigration reform will help because it will make the border more manageable,' she said."
National Immigration Forum: "We must have comprehensive reform in order to see continued improvement in the control of our borders." The National Immigration Forum states in a document that "[w]e have achieved about as much control of our border as possible without solving the core problem ... We must have comprehensive immigration reform in order to see continued improvement in the control of our borders." The document further states that the problem of illegal immigration "is the product of today's demand for worker and family visas clashing with an immigration system that has not been updated in 20 years."
Cato's Griswold: Controlling the border requires "allow[ing] more workers to enter the United States legally." Dan Griswold, director of Cato's Center for Trade Policy Studies, wrote on April 29 that the current immigration system "created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations" and that "[i]f we want to 'get control' of our border with Mexico, the smartest thing we could do would be to allow more workers to enter the United States legally under the umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform":
Requiring successful enforcement of the current immigration laws before they can be changed is a non sequitur. It's like saying, in 1932, that we can't repeal the nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption until we've drastically reduced the number of moonshine stills and bootleggers. But Prohibition itself created the conditions for the rise of those underground enterprises, and the repeal of Prohibition was necessary before the government could "get control" of its unintended consequences.
Illegal immigration is the Prohibition debate of our day. By essentially barring the legal entry of low-skilled immigrant workers, our own government has created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations. As long as the government maintains this prohibition, illegal immigration will be widespread, and the cost of reducing it, in tax dollars and compromised civil liberties, will be enormous.
If we want to "get control" of our border with Mexico, the smartest thing we could do would be to allow more workers to enter the United States legally under the umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform. Then we could focus our enforcement resources on a much smaller number of people who for whatever reason are still operating outside the law.
Republicans previously acknowledged that border security requires comprehensive reform of immigration system
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "If all you did was try to secure the border, then that's a false sense of security." From a May 24, 2006, press conference:
GRAHAM: Everybody would benefit if we could solve this problem.
Here's what I've learned from people back in South Carolina, a pretty conservative state. Border security is important, but they know by itself it's a false sense of security.
If all you did was try to secure the border, then that's a false sense of security, because illegal immigration is about employment. So you've got to control employment.
And 35 percent of the people who are illegal immigrants didn't cross the border, they came through visa overstays.
So the American people accept a comprehensive solution. The Senate is going to pass one. The president supports one. I think we can get some House members understanding that it has to be comprehensive. [accessed via Nexis]
McCain: Border security "will not alone ensure our control of immigration." In a June 4, 2007, speech, Sen. John McCain stated that border security measures "will not alone ensure our control of immigration or enable us to know the identity, whereabouts and purposes of the millions of undocumented workers who are in our country now." McCain added that people will come over the border "as long as the job market in our growing economy offers opportunities to immigrants" and said of the undocumented immigrants already in the United States: "Getting these people to declare themselves and prove they have come here for a job, pose no security threat and have no criminal record beyond entering the country illegally will enable our security and law enforcement officials to concentrate their resources on those who have come here to threaten our way of life rather than embrace it." McCain has since changed his position to advocate for a border security-first approach.
Bush: "You cannot fully enforce the border" without fixing overly strict limits on legal immigration. On June 1, 2007, President Bush spoke in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform proposal and stated that providing more channels for legal entry "makes it more likely the border will be enforced":
BUSH: But I would remind people that you cannot fully enforce the border so long as people are trying to sneak into this country to do jobs Americans aren't doing. You can try, but doesn't it make sense to help the Border Patrol do their job by saying, "If you're going to come and do a job, there is a legal way to do it so you don't have to sneak across in the first place?"
If you're interested in border security, you've got to recognize that giving people a chance to come and work here on a temporary basis makes it more likely the border will be enforced.
Alberto Gonzales: "I don't think you can have effective border security unless you're also taking into account those that are here in this country illegally." During a July 18, 2006, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, "Obviously, border security is very, very important, but I don't think you can have effective border security unless you're also taking into account those that are here in this country illegally." From the hearing [accessed via Nexis]:
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: More importantly, the president believes very strongly in comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously, border security is very, very important, but I don't think you can have effective border security unless you're also taking into account those that are here in this country illegally. You need to know who they are, where they're at and why they're here.
And so I think this is a problem that will only get worse over time. We need to deal with it, I think, at once. I think the American people expect the Congress and the president to deal with it at once. We know it's a tough issue, but that's what we're here to do, is try to deal with these tough issues