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Message to DHS: It's the Economy Stupid


Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced its latest gimmick -- Operation Scheduled Departure, a pilot program of voluntary deportation with no precedent, no incentives, and essentially no sensible basis. Meanwhile, on Wednesday the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a "think tank" that has been referred to as a "thinly disguised anti-immigration organization," published a highly contested study claiming that severe enforcement measures are driving down the US' "likely undocumented" immigrant population. Yet while ICE runs in circles, rounding up undocumented workers as CIS pats them on the back, the government fails to recognize that undocumented immigration is based more on the economics of survival than the politics of immigration enforcement--a costly misjudgment.

The CIS report is marred with ambiguities and dubious information to begin with. The authors report confidently about a population that is nearly impossible to accurately measure and even admit they didn't include information about any population other than Hispanics. Most significantly, the CIS report tries to discount the significance of the current economic downturn with a flawed economic timeline. CIS claims that a decline in undocumented immigration became present after August 2007, prior to the significant jump in the unemployment rate. Yet, what CIS overlooks is that the economic downturn in many of the industries where undocumented immigrants tend to be employed, began well before August 2007.

Aside from the absence of any hard data, CIS provides no real solutions to the nation's immigration problems. Instead, CIS implies that the illegal immigration population could drop to half of what it is now within the next five years if only presidential candidates keep silent about the details of comprehensive immigration reform, taxpayers continue to pour money into enforcement, and the U.S. economic recession persists. Essentially, CIS is telling anyone who wants to talk about realistic solutions to shut up while encouraging the government to continue spending billions on ICE's political theater in the midst of an economic recession.

Operation Scheduled Departure has been launched as ICE's response to the controversy surrounding the cruelty, injustice, and ineffectiveness of immigration raids nationwide. However, ICE is still missing the point: we can't deport our way out of our current immigration chaos. Even with the downturn of the economy, it's still unlikely that undocumented workers will return to countries that provide drastically fewer economic opportunities than the worst-hit communities here at home. There are 4.4 million undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since the year 2000, and an estimated 14.6 million people in mixed families. It's highly improbable that people who are firmly integrated into our communities will voluntary choose to uproot themselves and ask to be torn from their families and livelihood.

The US needs a practical, fair, and reasonable solution to immigration that includes smart enforcement measures. Political theater and gimmicks won't constrict the supply or demand for immigrant labor. Instead, they will drive undocumented immigrants further underground, allowing bottom-feeding employers to continue exploiting a vulnerable labor force.

Serious researchers concluded long ago that undocumented immigration is driven by economics and that the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars spent on immigration enforcement over the past two decades have done virtually nothing to dissuade undocumented immigrants from coming here when there are jobs to fill. The newly announced "compassionately conceived enforcement initiative," Operation Scheduled Departure, together with recent coordinated deportation-only policies like the immigration raids in Postville, Iowa, glaringly point to one clear conclusion: when it comes to solving our immigration problem, the Bush administration and its restrictionist allies are not only impractical, irrational and misinformed, but also morbidly clueless.