Feds Make Strides Curbing Illegal Immigration As States Pass New Laws
Nov 2, 2011
By Chris Wilkerson, staff writer – November 2, 2011
Meaningful reform of American immigration laws has repeatedly failed to gain traction during the past several years because many have said reform was worthless until the borders were secure. But now the Department of Homeland Security and even President Barack Obama have said border security concerns have been resolved.
“We’ve answered those concerns,” President Obama told a crowd in El Paso, Texas in May. “We have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible.” 
A combination of more border patrol agents and improved technology has drastically reduced the number of illegal immigration attempts on the United States border with Mexico, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The build-up began during the George W. Bush administration, Obama said. “The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents – more than twice as many as there were in 2004,” he told the crowd in El Paso. “We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history.”
It is not just more patrol officers. The department has tripled the number of intelligence analysts working at the border and “unmanned aerial vehicles” are patrolling the skies. There is a border fence along about 650 miles of the border, according to an Oct. 19 story in the New York Times. That leaves about 1,400 unfenced miles to be guarded with agents and technology.  Security fencing along the Mexican border can cost as much as $21 million per mile, according to Department of Homeland Security.
The staffing increase at the border has Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano optimistic. “We have committed unprecedented resources to this effort and, this year, will see yet again a historic drop in illegal crossings and more and more contraband seized,” she told a crowd at American University in October. “So let’s take the ‘border is out of control’ myth out of the equation.” 
And if DHS is proud of its statistical record of keeping illegal immigrants out of the United States for the past few years, it is just as proud of how many unlawful troublemakers it has thrown out of the country.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in October that it set a new record for deportation in the year that ended Sept 30. ICE deported 396,906 people by setting enforcement priorities and executing the plan, according to director John Morton. More than half of those removed had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. 
DHS and ICE set priorities in 2008 to focus deportation efforts on public safety. Recognizing that the department will never have the resources to remove everyone who is in the country illegally (DHS estimates that number to be around 10 million), Napolitano has set her sites on criminals.
Among those deported in the last year, more than 1,000 were convicted of homicide and almost 6,000 were convicted of sexual offenses, according to ICE. About 80,000 illegal aliens were deported from the United States last year who had been convicted of drug crimes or driving under the influence. After criminals, the department has a secondary priority to remove recent border crossers and frequent offenders.
Time Magazine published a graphic in its Nov. 7, 2011, issue showing the top 10 cities for deportations and the dramatic increase each city had seen since 2001. The top city was San Antonio, Texas, with 63,090 deportations and the No. 10 city was New Orleans with 15,363.
Napolitano also replaced the flashy, yet ineffective worksite raids in favor of tighter scrutiny on employers, she said. “We eliminated raids that did nothing to enhance public safety. Instead, we focused on targeted worksite enforcement programs like I-9 audits and criminal prosecutions of employers who egregiously violate employment laws,” she said in October.
So, DHS and ICE have made significant statistical strides both in keeping the border secure and in deporting those in the United States illegally that pose a public safety threat. Meanwhile, state legislatures across the country are drawing up immigration laws of their own.
According to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 40 states passed 257 new laws and regulations pertaining to immigration in 2011, which is an 18 percent decrease so far this year from 2010.  The top issues for state legislatures were law enforcement, employment and identification. Eighteen states now have an E-Verify system that checks employees work eligibility. Five states – Utah, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – crafted bills modeled after Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070, according to the report.
Alabama’s new laws have been heavily criticized and parts of it have been put on hold by the courts pending litigation. In Montgomery this year, Alabama legislators passed legislation requiring schools to verify immigration status on its students and even makes it illegal to give an undocumented person a ride in a car.
Georgia followed suit with immigration laws that have had an immediate affect on the state’s agricultural industry – about 12 percent of its GDP.  The Peach State’s tight crackdown on illegal immigrants had the business community sweating even before the law was passed. The Center for American Progress predicts the state will lose $800 million in farm values and crop prices every year as a result of the stricter immigration laws. 
The courts already are wrestling with several pieces of state legislation and are predicted to take on more as ambitious legislatures pass new laws. In the meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security says it has secured our border with Mexico and is making great strides in deporting the illegal immigrants who pose a threat to public safety. And many states with large illegal immigrant populations are taking matters into their own state houses and passing legislation to crack down on their illegal residents who place a burden on state funds in health care and services.
Is this an environment where the U.S. Congress can enact some stabilizing, comprehensive immigration legislation? The President hopes so. “You’ve got to help push for comprehensive reform,” he told the crowd in El Paso in May.
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