I'm an immigration lawyer in Houston. Last week, USA Today reported that Thomas Homan, Director of Immigration Customs Enforcement, recently visited Miami alongside Attorney General Jeff Sessions to thank leaders who changed “sanctuary city” policies.
Miami-Dade county mayor Carlos Gimenez had responded by changing its local policy rather than risk losing the federal funds. USA Today noted that arrests of undocumented immigrants without criminal records has increased from 18% in January to 30% in June. “You’re going to continue to see an increase in that,” Homan responded.
I avoid reading the comments section of any article about immigration because it tends to be a forum for people to express anger and hatred of people who are not from the U.S., and I don’t view those comments as helpful (and they often are uninformed).
However, I read the comments section of this article. Most were readers expressing support for “upholding the law and carrying it out as it is supposed to be” or “enforcing the law.” But I also saw an exchange that was interesting:
"By all means, get the 11 million illegals -- and their families out. It costs at least $10,000 -- and maybe as high as $40,000 -- per illegal to process and deport them. That's only about $110 billion at the low end -- chump change. That will leave about 3 to 4 million empty homes and apartments and kick housing prices and the construction industry in the balls in some parts of the country. That will also be 11 million less consumers -- we won't need as many store clerks, stock boys, truck drivers and so on. Not to mention, that we know that crops will rot in the fields and food prices will go up." That's already happened.
No one -- not even those LW commie liberals -- supports giving amnesty for illegals with serious criminal convictions -- but there is a common sense approach that has been adopted by both parties that doesn't seem to be part of ICE's game plan."
In response to this comment, someone wrote:
“You’re not even from the USA, so STFU”
Essentially meaning that regardless of the accuracy of the prior comment or the validity of the concerns raised, if the commenter is not from the U.S., his point is invalid. I’m not sure why the response said this – nothing in the comment indicated that the writer wasn’t from the U.S.
Houston Immigration Lawyer: Enforcing Immigration Law is Not Black & White
I’m an immigration lawyer in Houston, so what the law says and how people comply with it and how it is enforced are extremely important to me. Something about this article and the exchange in the comments bothers me: enforcing the law is not black and white.
People speed when driving on the highway all the time. We could allot more resources to having police officers stop everyone who speeds, and that would technically be “enforcing the law.” But we only have so many police officers in any given city, so if we did that, we would have to divert police officers from other work – work that might be more important for all of us and might have a greater impact, such as going undercover to catch dangerous criminals before they can carry out violent acts, for example.
So we can “enforce the law” in various ways based on our resources, but if we choose to enforce it against anyone and everyone who breaks the law, it might not yield the greatest benefit to us. For this reason, Prosecutors are not required to seek the same charges or sentence for everyone who commits a particular crime.
They make plea bargains and determine how to charge a suspect depending on the person’s prior history, mitigating circumstances, and the District Attorneys’ office’s resources. This gives leeway to take a hard line position against a person who clearly is a danger to us, but also to allow a person who is likely to serve a sentence and move on with their life to do so.
Immigration Law and Undocumented Immigrants
Immigration law is no different. Having practiced almost 10 years now, I can say that if it is enforced against anyone who violated immigration law in any way, we would likely not benefit. The comment I referenced above makes some valid points – we need people to perform skilled manual labor or difficult labor that American workers tend not to want to do.
While the comment didn’t say this, immigration lawyers like me know that there are very few – if any – viable options for workers in these fields. Temporary worker visas are generally only available to people who have not entered the country without authorization and without prior immigration violations, so people who are here without authorization have no avenue to do this. Visas that are available for manual labor are also limited to temporary or seasonal periods of work.
It’s also true that undocumented immigrants are consumers just like the rest of us – they rent apartments and homes, buy goods and services, and often pay taxes into our state and federal government, thereby subsidizing our social security system even though they may never be able to benefit from it. They provide services we need. ICE Director Homan stated “The question is always asked, ‘Do illegal immigrants commit more crimes than U.S. citizens?’ I don’t know. But what I can say is every crime an illegal alien commits wouldn’t have been committed if he wasn’t here. That’s a preventable crime.”
Undocumented Immigrants and Safety
I’m a U.S. citizen and I want to be safe just like everyone else does. According to Holman, we don’t have evidence that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
If we don’t know whether an undocumented person is more likely to commit a crime, and we have undocumented immigrants with no criminal history contributing to our economy, it doesn’t make much sense in terms of expending our resources to try to arrest all undocumented immigrants regardless of whether they have any criminal history or not.
It does make sense to me to target undocumented individuals with violent or dangerous criminal records. But the United States also needs to work to prevent crime and reduce crime rates among our own citizens – the bulk of our population. We’re no safer if we remove all undocumented immigrants from the US but ignore our population’s criminal infractions.
We’re also less safe if we discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes out of fear that by reporting a crime, they may be subjecting themselves to deportation. If we want to prevent crime and remove dangerous undocumented immigrants from the country, it doesn’t help to put policies in place to discourage local governments from having sanctuary policies, which encourage undocumented immigrants to feel free to report crimes without fear of outing themselves to ICE.
For example, in Houston, our police chief recently announced a decrease in rapes and violent crimes reported by Hispanics compared to last year. The state of Texas has SB4, an anti-sanctuary city law, set to take effect in September, and many are concerned that it will cause immigrant communities to avoid reporting crimes.
Changes in Immigration Law Have Left Enforcement in a Gray Area
It’s fine to want to “enforce the law.” We’re a country of laws, and the law is my living. However, in most circumstances, there is no “carrying [law enforcement] out as it is supposed to be” as one commenter to the USA Today article stated.
Our law has flexibility in its enforcement and the consequences individuals face for good reason – we have limited resources and we need to make sure we direct them in ways that yield the most benefit to us. And immigration law, unlike criminal law and other areas, is a body of law that has undergone major changes over the last 30 years, becoming more and more restrictive.
Many are aware that under President Regan, the United States offered an amnesty program to undocumented immigrants in the mid-1980s. However, not everyone is aware that in 1996, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), which limited options for legalization for many undocumented immigrants. We’ve cut off paths for people to comply with our law and obtain legal status, and it’s no surprise that our undocumented population has increased as a result.
Telling someone they’re not from the U.S. so they don’t have a voice in the discussion isn’t the answer. Trying to arrest and deport everyone who is here without authorization is too costly for our country.
Enforcing the law is not a black and white affair – discretion is a part of the process, and for good reason. We don’t have unlimited funds to spend on detaining and deporting people, particularly where the resources are directed at individuals who have come to this country seeking a safe haven from violence or to work hard and contribute to our economy and pose no threat to us.
Ignoring the economic contributions we receive from having our undocumented population and seeking to simply “enforce the law” across the board to our detriment will not benefit us in the long run. A reasoned understanding of the benefits and consequences of our undocumented population and a targeted enforcement of the law that benefits our country and its population will.
Kathryn N. Karam has exclusively practiced immigration law since November 2007. She is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. If you would like to speak with her or another lawyer from the Law office of Kathryn N. Karam, click here to schedule a consultation: