WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just before its six-week recess, the House passed a budget bill, supported by President Donald Trump, that increases both domestic and military spending and that suspends the debt ceiling for two years. The Senate did the same thing Aug. 1, ahead of going on its own recess.
One estimate had the federal government spending $320 billion more as a result of the bill. Another estimate had the government on track to spend about $4 trillion during the current fiscal year, although it would take in only about $3 trillion in revenue — a deficit of $1 trillion.
But this story is not about that bill. However, given that elected officials in both parties seem to be comfortable with deficit spending, it makes one wonder what U.S. immigration policy would look like if money were no object.
Would a wall be built along the entire U.S.-Mexico border? Would the government ship 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally by bus — or plane — back to their home countries, and hang the expense? What would enforcement and the judicial process look like, not to mention the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, and the DREAM Act?
“They need more resources,” Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois, said of Customs and Border Protection and its Border Patrol agents. He visited the border July 19. When visiting with CBP agents, “they asked, for example, if a change could be made, that the CBP can hire people who would be civilians who would do some of the jobs that they are required to do in taking care of immigrants being detained,” he added.
“I think we need to hire more judges so that cases can be heard more quickly, adjudicated more quickly. I think that would help tremendously,” said Lipinski, a Catholic.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, which advocates for stricter immigration policies, did not sound unduly upset with the idea of an expanded wall.
“Physical barriers are effective. You look around the world, and physical barriers are effective for keeping people from crossing borders, for a whole lot of reasons,” citing Israel’s “separation wall” that separates it from the Palestinian territories. “There used to be bombs at bases and bus stations in Jerusalem,” Mehlman said. “Now there aren’t. They built a wall.”
He added, “Other countries have done things like that to great effectiveness. It’s one part of a strategy. It’s not a magic bullet. But one part of a greater strategy.”
Dave Gorak, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, whose motto is “Working to Protect American Jobs and the Environment,” said: “I find it ludicrous that 17 years after 9/11, that we’re still talking about securing our borders.”
He added, “There are laws that prohibit employers from hiring illegal aliens. Most of these businesses are getting away scot-free. The federal government is not doing its job to protect Americans. … If you allow people to disrespect certain laws, it breeds contempt for all laws. The American people have a right to demand enforcement of those laws.”
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, took Gorak’s position and essentially turned it inside-out.
“We already spend hundreds of billions of dollars on enforcement. More enforcement is not the solution we need as a country. I think this is a place where, frankly, we can be saving money and creating taxpayers by making sure folks are registering for legal status so that they can get jobs and pay taxes.”
Gorak had a counter to Noorani’s jobs argument. “‘These are jobs Americans won’t do’? That’s nonsense,” he said. “The majority of these jobs are already being held by American citizens. For proof of that, all you’ve got to do is go to your own Labor Department. They’ve got all the information that breaks it all down,” adding that only 4% of immigrants in the U.S. without documents are working in agriculture.
“All they’re doing is making life difficult for American people who’ll do these jobs for the right kind of money,” Gorak told Catholic News Service. “Jobs Americans won’t do? Who wants to spend time at a job picking vegetables?”
Gorak, a Catholic who is not shy about using the term “illegal aliens,” added: “I take a very dim view of the Church’s view on this position.”
The U.S. Catholic bishops have issued numerous statements over the years on the rights of refugees and immigrants. They have stated they recognize nations have a right to control their borders “in a just and proportionate manner.” They also believe people “have the right to find opportunities in their home countries,” but have also said that people have the “right to migrate,” when conditions in their home country “preclude them from providing for the safety and well-being of their families.”
The bishops support legislation that would give DACA recipients a path to legalization and have called for comprehensive and “humane” immigration reform. They also have strongly criticized what they see as the current administration’s “enforcement-only immigration approach” by carrying out ICE deportations and an ongoing tightening of rules for those seeking asylum.
Lipinski said he changed his position on DACA and the DREAM Act. “I had finally gotten to the point where I said, ‘We’re not getting comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon,’ so I think now people who were brought here as minors, that they should be given the opportunity to have a pathway to citizenship,” he told CNS.
He had to change his views on another aspect of the immigration issue. “I thought — contrary to what many people believe, and I was incorrect on this — that Donald Trump was someone I thought could make a deal on comprehensive immigration reform,” Lipinski said. “Instead, he decided to go down the path of using immigration as a cudgel, because it helps him politically. … We’ll have to see who the next president is.”
“In terms of how you deal with the people who are here, many people do get discouraged and go home,” said FAIR’s Mehlman. “A lot of people go home for a variety of reasons. Not everyone who comes illegally to the United States stays here permanently. Do you convince people that violating our laws and continuing to violate our laws is not going to achieve what you hope it’s going to achieve?”
He added, “We all accept the fact that there’s never to going to be zero” illegal immigration.
When it comes to the prospect of sending millions of immigrants without legal status here back to their home countries, or building a wall, Noorani said, “I think with or without money, neither of those are smart policies.”
Money can, theoretically, be had in abundance. To paraphrase the old Doritos slogan, “Spend all you want. We’ll make more.” But what is in short supply, all those interviewed by CNS acknowledged, is the political will to make change.
Mehlman said, “One of the problems with our immigration policy is — and I don’t know that we can even get to this point — but we’ve never established a public interest objective for it.”
“If you look at the electorate, there is a desire that Congress reaches a compromise,” Noorani said. “They’re not reflecting their constituents’ interests.”
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