Will “Stepping on the Gas” of Immigration Enforcement Drive Us Into A Brick Wall?

Today, the newly re-named Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held its first hearing on worksite enforcement, which, as expected, did not delve into important policy questions surrounding worksite enforcement. The Republican members of the subcommittee called on the usual suspects to minimize the Obama administration’s enforcement efforts, even though Deputy Director of ICE, Kumar Kibble, stated quite clearly that ICE has achieved record numbers of investigations, audits, fines, and deportations. One can’t help but wonder if subcommittee hardliners would be satisfied had the Administration’s enforcement numbers been doubled or even tripled. For that matter, after listening to the majority members, one wonders whether any amount of enforcement would be sufficient to meet their expectations.


Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the full Judiciary Committee who sat in the hearing ex officio, wasted no time in positioning worksite enforcement as a way to create jobs for Americans, even though there is ample evidence that deporting more immigrants will not open up those jobs to U.S. unemployed workers. Once again, Rep. Smith and the other members of the Immigration Reform Caucus posed as champions of the American worker even though their voting records clearly suggest otherwise.

While everyone is clearly concerned about the nation’s high unemployment level, Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) made the important point that “stepping on the gas” of increased immigration enforcement without comprehensively addressing the immigration system will destroy, not create, new jobs. This point was echoed by the minority witness, Dan Griswold of the CATO Institute.

“The real world economy doesn’t work that way,” he stated. “Low-skilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal, do not compete directly with the large majority of American workers. […] We cannot enforce our way out of unemployment. There is no casual relationship between inflows of immigration and higher overall unemployment in the U.S. economy.”

Unfortunately, other policy points and important voices were not raised at today’s hearing. Rather than argue about how many people are being deported, the time could have been used more constructively to discuss the need for effective, targeted worksite enforcement that focuses on employers who violate labor and employment laws and exploit immigrant workers, which hurt U.S. workers and law-abiding employers in the process.

Javier Morillo of SEIU stated the problem well:

“ICE is not targeting egregious, criminal employers. In fact, their actions are turning the federal government into an employment agency for the worst employers in the country. In the wake of audits, immigrant workers are pushed into the underground economy, exploited and paid under the table.”

Most importantly, worksite enforcement can only be truly effective if done in conjunction with comprehensive immigration reform—something President Obama alluded to in the State of the Union Address last night and Rep. Zoe Lofgren addressed in today’s hearing:

All the stats are up—number of people deported, spending more money on the border today than in the history of U.S., we have more men on the border than in the history of U.S.—but we have failed, as a Congress, to come to grips to reform the system so that it actually works for Americans. […] You can’t repeal the law of supply and demand. We have a situation that is chaotic when we need order.

Hopefully, future subcommittee hearings will focus on constructive debate—debate that moves the ball forward on larger policy solutions for our entire immigration system, not just the same enforcement-only approach over and over again.

Photo by Potatojunkie.

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