Throwing money over the border

By Michelle Chen Feb 11, 2009

Today, the Migration Policy Institute issued an interesting review of Homeland Security immigration policies. The Institute focuses on immigration processing and border policies, with various recommendations for streamlining (and in many cases, strengthening) enforcement programs. The data compiled in the report might actually be the most revealing part. Here’s an interesting factoid: Funding for Customs and Border Protection and ICE jumped 82 percent and 76 percent, respectively, from fiscal years 2004 to 2009. The swelling budget coincided with controversial hard-line enforcement policies such as “expedited removal.” Another fascinating tidbit:

“In FY 2008, immigration-related prosecutions totaled 79,400, nearly a five-fold increase since 2000. Immigration prosecutions now constitute the largest number of federal prosecutions in the United States—exceeding prosecutions made by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for example.”

What’s been going on elsewhere in government during this relentless pursuit of immigrants? Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Wall Street fat-cats have gambled away the country’s wealth and capitalized on lax oversight; lawmakers have started to dance around the issue of reforming financial regulation; and all the tumult is now hitting the fan with a “flood” of corporate fraud cases, leaving overstretched FBI investigators scrambling to catch up. So what kind of returns has the government realized from this massive investment in securing our borders? Though there’s no clear way to measure the "effectiveness" of harsh immigration crackdowns, the report concludes:

“…in interviews with would-be border crossers and returning unauthorized migrants, researchers have found that while most Mexicans in migrant-sending communities see crossing the border as difficult and dangerous, these attitudes have no statistically significant effect on whether or not they planned to migrate illegally to the United States. More importantly, enhanced fencing and other border enforcement increases since 1994 have had no discernable effect overall on immigrants’ ability to successfully cross the border.”

For all the talk in the Beltway about throwing good money after bad these days, maybe it’s time for an honest cost-benefit analysis on Homeland Security.