Illegal immigration and enforcement have been the dominant concerns driving immigration policy for more than 25 years. Deep public skepticism over the federal government’s will and ability to enforce the nation’s immigration laws has come with them. As a result, “enforcement first,” a proposition that argued for effective enforcement as a precondition to broader reforms, became widely embraced.
In a report released Monday, the Migration Policy Institute documents how dramatically facts have changed from those long-held perceptions. Particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, but dating to the 1986Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) — which attempted to end illegal immigration through employer sanctions, increased border enforcement and legalization — the nation has made unprecedented, steep investments in the capacity of federal agencies to aggressively enforce immigration laws.
Since the 1986 legislation was enacted, nearly $187 billion has been spent on immigration enforcement. Budgets for the two main federal enforcement agencies — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — and its primary enforcement technology initiative, the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, are nearly 15 times what was spent to operate the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1986.