The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) recently released a study claiming that the federal government spends more on immigration law enforcement than all other federal enforcement agencies combined. Specifically, it states that expenditures for immigration law enforcement last year totaled $18 billion, while the cost of all other agencies was only $14 billion. The MPI says expenditures on immigration enforcement have risen steadily during the past 26 years, totaling $187 billion during that interval.
The study also maintains that the increased expenditures have greatly improved immigration law enforcement. It says that the government has deported four million non-citizens (mostly illegal aliens) since 1990 and that “removals have increased dramatically in recent years.” Many news outlets reported on the study, and some pro-amnesty commentators have used it to argue that with enforcement so well-funded and effective, it is now appropriate to consider “immigration reform,” i.e., amnesty for illegal aliens now living in the U.S.
Fact Check: The MPI report suggests this possibility itself, and it isn’t surprising, considering that MPI is pro-amnesty and that a co-author of the report is Doris Meissner, former head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton Administration. At that post Meissner showed little enthusiasm for enforcement.
The MPI report has numerous flaws. A review by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) finds it “riddled with false statements [and], cherry-picked statistics.” [See link below.] One outstanding flaw is that the study lists the total expenditures of agencies that enforce immigration law, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It fails to point out, however, a large share of these expenditures have nothing to do with immigration, such as the work of Customs, which includes such activities as customs screening and cargo inspection.
CIS estimates that if all non-immigration activities were subtracted from the agencies MPI lists in the immigration enforcement category, the total expenditures would be from 25 to 30 percent less. In addition, the MPI study fails to list significant expenditures of non-immigration law enforcement, a big example being the federal prison system. Also it omits entire non-immigration agencies such as Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which has a larger budget than ICE. When all is properly added up, immigration enforcement expenditures are only half of non-immigration enforcement.
Most of the increases in deportations, cited by the study, occurred during the Bush Administration. Alleged increases under Obama, as noted by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), head of the House Judiciary Committee, came about by padding the deportation totals with expulsions at the border not previously counted as deportation. In a moment of candor, to reassure open border activists that he really wasn’t cracking down, Obama admitted that the deportation totals were “actually a little deceptive.”
Border enforcement may have improved, as the study states, but it still has a long way to go. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, the Border Patrol apprehends only about 60 percent of illegal border crossers.
The MPI study should not be taken seriously. It’s simply part of a stream of misinformation to make Americans think that illegal immigration is no longer a problem, and thereby persuade them to accept amnesty.