The Costs of Trumped-Up Immigration Enforcement Measures

30 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2017 Last revised: 10 May 2017

Kari E. Hong

Boston College - Law School

Date Written: April 24, 2017


Currently, our country spends $18 billion each year on immigration enforcement, which is nearly $4 billion more than the combined budgets of the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, and ATF. President Trump hopes to increase that annual number significantly with his proposed heightened enforcement measures that result in more arrests, more ICE officers roaming our streets and airports, more detentions, more deportations, and more wall. This essay begins by examining each of these measures that outlined in the new executive orders and concludes that all are expensive, ineffective, and inhumane.

More insidiously, however, President Trump claims that these are needed because of falsehoods, misstatements, and lies about immigrants’ adverse impact on society. But the facts are that immigrants do not commit crimes, crime rates are at a 20-year low, and the flow of incoming immigrants is at a 50-year low.

Just as being Tough on Crime was proven a waste of financial resources and human capital, so too are Tough of Immigration policies. Immigration enforcement is unnecessary, wastes financial resources, and the deportation of undocumented and documented immigrants harms our immediate and long-term economic interests.

In reforming the misguided immigration enforcement measures, there then are two notable issues. The first is that, although the new enforcement measures are cruel and relentless, they did not originate with President Trump. For the past 20 years, Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) fundamentally changed immigration law by expanding who could be deported and cutting off numerous ways people used to earn status. Those close to the process freely admit that IIRIRA was enacted with a full awareness of its flawed policies, but politicians embraced it to avoid looking soft on crime and immigration. Whereas IIRIRA was the product of crass political opportunism, President Trump is using this law to its fullest.

The second issue is that, in addition to focusing just on policy measures, it is critical to rebut the underlying nativism that led to both Trump’s enhanced immigration enforcement practices and the passage of their legal framework in IIRIRA. To do so, facts establish that immigrants are contributing to our country and economy. But also, immigrants uniquely contribute to our character as Americans. From personal experience, I did not become patriotic until I saw my country through the eyes of my immigrant clients who reaffirmed the values of tolerance, hard work, parental sacrifices for children, and a dedication to give back to their new country. The continued pursuit of enforcement-only immigration policies will measure losses not only in the dollars spent but also by what collective and national values are lost. We do not need to choose between open borders and the current scheme. To the contrary, if we repeal IIRIRA and update enforcement with new technologies, we can have a system that helps sort out contributing from non-contributing individuals and reward those who earn status through their families, work, conduct, and contributions.

Keywords: immigration, IIRIRA, illegal, undocumented, enforcement, Trump, executive orders, expedited removal, border wall, ICE officers, Sanctuary Cities

Suggested Citation

Hong, Kari E., The Costs of Trumped-Up Immigration Enforcement Measures (April 24, 2017). Cardozo Law Review, Forthcoming; Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 50. Available at SSRN:

Kari E. Hong (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

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