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The Right-Wing Hardliner Immigration Approach Would Create a Police State -- Is That What Those Supposed Freedom Lovers Want?

Immigration in America would take a disastrous course if the 'enforcement only' crowd kept getting its way. And Americans would have to suffer for it.

Last year, the federal government filed more charges for immigration violations than all other crimes and misdemeanors combined -- it charged more people for breaking our immigration laws than it charged drug traffickers, bank robbers, counterfeiters and everything else under the sun. Yet right-wing lawmakers and pundits who oppose a comprehensive re-think of our immigration system continue to insist the opposite is true: that the government is just sitting on its hands.

It’s really a lie of epic proportion, a distortion so great that it turns reality on its head. Yet immigration hardliners in the Congress and their lickspittles in the right-wing media have used it to convince a sizable chunk of the population that the federal government refuses, or at least has shown little zeal, to “enforce the law.” A Google search for “federal government won't enforce immigration laws” returns 25 million hits; the narrative is often used to justify harsh local ordinances like Arizona’s draconian SB 1070.

The government's preferred approach -- which in the real world has been tried and proven to be a complete disaster -- is to address the problem by demanding more and more law enforcement while otherwise maintaining an almost universally loathed status quo. The strategy is known as “enforcement-only.”

In reality, the federal government wastes an enormous and ever-increasing amount of resources -- completely disproportional to the seriousness of the offense -- trying to enforce our immigration laws within a deeply flawed system, and it has had no appreciable impact on the size of the undocumented population. That’s because unlawful immigration to the United States is a structural issue. We have a system that allows high-skilled tech workers from India to migrate legally, but not uneducated agricultural workers from Mexico. Our southern border is one of the longest in the world; and it divides two economies with the greatest differential in wealth on the planet.

Americans are addicted to cheap labor, and see hiring unauthorized workers as a victimless crime. NPR recently profiled citizens who admitted to hiring undocumented workers. One of them, “Annette,” explained that “American prices are inflated,” so paying her worker a lower wage was justified. She said that if her employee had stayed in Mexico, “he would work in a maquiladora in Juarez, and he would make $1 an hour or $2 an hour, whereas here he can make $500 in a matter of five hours … So I have no problem” with it.

But the greatest obstacle to enforcement-only being effective (leaving aside the question of whether it is humane -- it isn’t), is that we live in a free country. The snake-oil salesmen pushing the strategy as a real solution to the problem of unauthorized immigration would have you believe that we can “crack down” on the 4 percent of the population living here without papers without impacting the remaining 96 percent. That’s nonsense -- enforcement-only could work, but only in a very different kind of society. It could work if we were all issued national ID cards and gave up the ability to move freely within the country without being stopped at checkpoints and asked for our papers. North Korea doesn’t have a big problem with undocumented immigrants; enforcement-only can certainly be effective if we want to live in a police state.

And while immigration hardliners lament the supposed inaction of the federal government, the police state they’re begging for is exactly what we’re seeing take shape in nascent form today. We’re not there yet, but the frog is in the pot and the temperature is gradually increasing.

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