Enforcement Gone Bad


There has been so much published recently about the wrong turn taken by the Bush administration’s approach to immigration enforcement. Reports from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Migration Policy Institute have been especially damning. On Sunday, the NY Times ran an editorial reiterating that our immigration system is broken and that comprehensive reform is needed now more than ever. Here is an excerpt:

A report last week from the Pew Hispanic Center laid bare some striking results of that campaign. It found that Latinos now make up 40 percent of those sentenced in federal courts, even though they are only about 13 percent of the adult population. They accounted for one-third of federal prison inmates in 2007.

The numbers might suggest we are besieged by immigrant criminals. But of all the noncitizen Latinos sentenced last year, the vast majority — 81 percent — were convicted for unlawfully entering or remaining in the country, neither of which is a criminal offense.

The country is filling the federal courts and prisons with nonviolent offenders. It is diverting immense law-enforcement resources from pursuing serious criminals — violent thugs, financial scammers — to an immense, self-defeating campaign to hunt down … workers.

The Pew report follows news this month that even as a federal program to hunt immigrant fugitives saw its budget soar — to $218 million last year from $9 million in 2003 — its mission went astray. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, of the 72,000 people arrested through last February, 73 percent had no criminal record. Border Patrol agents in California and Maryland, meanwhile, tell of pressure to arrest workers at day-labor corners and convenience stores to meet quotas.

The country needs to control its borders. It needs to rebuild an effective immigration system and thwart employers who cheat it. It needs to bring the undocumented forward and make citizen taxpayers of them.

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