May 12, 2008

Analysis of ICE Enforcement Strategies

ICE has drastically increased its personnel and has been able to increase the number of administrative arrests at worksites nearly ten-fold in the past five years. This has led to more deportations and detentions, but has not reduced the overall number of undocumented immigrants in the United States. In 2007, ICE removed 276,912 immigrants, and detained a daily average of 29,786 undocumented immigrants (ICE Annual Report 2007). Formal removals have been increasing every year since 2002, when there were 150,788 formal removals. Despite these efforts, the undocumented immigrant population continues to grow, from 8.5 million in 2000 to 10.5 million in 2005 to 11.5 million in 2006.

The raids are primarily a scare tactic, designed to remind undocumented people that they are deportable, and to remind those involved in identity theft that they are at risk of incarceration. Undocumented workers are here primarily because their employers need their services. The laws in place often require that they secure false documentation in order to work. While the infraction of immigration law – unauthorized presence – is a civil offense, undocumented people must often commit a criminal offense – identity theft – in order to secure employment. While some critics claim that these actions render undocumented people criminals, the fact remains that they would not commit the original offense –unauthorized entry – were it not the case that employment was available. And, they would not commit the criminal offense – identity theft – if the laws did not require them to obtain documentation to secure employment.

The raids serve to remind employers that it is illegal to knowingly hire undocumented workers and to remind people without proper documentation that they are “illegal.” This strategy does not work to actually reduce the incidence of undocumented employment, nor to reduce the presence of undocumented people. It does, however, further marginalize and subordinate a labor force that is vital to the U.S. economy. It also creates emotional and financial distress, both for undocumented workers, and for their families, who may or may not be U.S. citizens. These negative consequences are real, while the stated goals of ICE are not being achieved. We can see the distress that is created, while ICE can only hope that their actions reduce the “job magnet.” And, thus far, the evidence points to the contrary. For these reasons, we must call for an end to these humane raids, and instead, call on our elected officials to reach an accord with regard to immigration reform.

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