The Illegal Alien Problem: Enforcing the Immigration Laws

By George Weissinger, Ph. D.
New York Institute of Technology
Department of Behavioral Science-Criminal Justice Program
CIBC 66-327, PO Box 9029, Central Islip, New York 11722-9029
Telephone (631) 348-3062 -
    Published on November 7, 2003.


    This article supports a theory that explains the illegal alien problem as part of the general environment in which it is found. It argues that the illegal alien problem is a diverse one and not simply a Mexico-US problem, and suggests that traditional immigration law enforcement strategies encourage an ever-increasing illegal alien population in the United States. Reasons why such a policy of enforcement exists are also discussed.

    The Illegal Alien Problem

    Characterizations of the illegal alien range from the sympathetic to the xenophobic. Such characterizations contribute to the confusion about the illegal alien problem. The media usually portrays the plight of the illegal alien in the United States using the historical view of a nation of immigrants. Often, the media resists portraying the illegal alien as anything but the hard working border-crosser that simply wants to feed his family. However, the traditional image of aliens may have changed as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

    The media influences our perceptions about the illegal alien in the United States. For example, portrayals of crowds of alien day laborers serve as a general definition of the illegal alien problem. (Chen, 1999) Such portrayals focus more on aesthetics than economic, health, or criminal justice issues. Residents are concerned about the way such crowds might bring down property values, or interfere with commerce. Even in this area, there is little consensus. Advocates and anti-illegal groups converge to create a distorted perception of the problem. Thousands of illegal aliens are gathering on a daily basis in known locations throughout the United States in order to be picked up by potential employers for a day�s work. Although the INS has statutory authority under Title 8 USC Sec. 1357, and designated officers or employees of the Service have the power without warrant to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien as to their right to be or to remain in the United States, the INS simply ignores this obvious opportunity to remove illegal aliens from the United States. The official policy of the INS, now Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), is to target employers of illegal aliens in an attempt to remove the reason why illegal aliens come to the United States. This policy evolved out of the employer sanctions included in the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. With 8 million illegal aliens in the United States and 1,062,279 apprehensions in 2002 this policy does not seem to be working. Another important issue is the implied powerless of the illegal alien. The growing Hispanic population and the increasing number of illegal aliens with legal ties has a direct relationship to this perception. In addition, other participants in the general environment, such as politicians and religious groups, have a vested interest in not enforcing interior immigration laws. Such groups stand to receive benefits from a larger alien population--one for votes, the other for potential converts. The implied powerlessness may be a strategic attempt to soften the impact of an amnesty program. Skerry compares the two perspectives of the illegal living in the shadows contrasted by those that are more vocal about their plight. In his opinion, the latter is a more accurate characterization. (Skerry, 2001) More recently, advocates compared the plight of illegal aliens to the civil rights movement and organized an immigrant worker�s freedom ride to rally support. Found at

    Another popular issue focuses on native xenophobia, and the ongoing debate between advocates and opponents of illegal aliens in the United States. However, these issues obfuscate more relevant concerns about interior enforcement of the immigration laws. For decades, the policy makers seemed to concern themselves with the cultural and economic determinants of illegal immigration. As a result of the World Trade Center attack, these same policy makers are forced to deal with other enforcement issues regarding illegal immigration. (Edsall, 2001). A recent opinion survey revealed that the general public is opposed to illegal immigration and yet most elected representatives seem to favor lax interior enforcement of the immigration laws. (Camarota, 2002) Our ideas and sentiments about illegal aliens developed over time. An appropriate focus for such an investigation might include analyzing the development of policy regarding enforcement of the immigration laws.

    By way of introduction, immigration law violators are not immigrants . They are aliens who are in the United States in violation of law. There is a profound difference between individuals who legally apply for admission and fulfill all the requirements for admission, and those who decide to enter the United States, or intentionally overstay their visa in violation of law. Labeling such violators as intending immigrants only confuses the issue and juxtaposing these two categories is specious logic. A few of the important differences include criminal and health backgrounds of intending entrants. A lawfully admitted alien must undergo health screening and will not be admitted if found to have a communicable disease. Similarly, certain criminal convictions exclude some aliens from admission into the United States as well. Of course, the smuggled alien, or one who enters without inspection, bypasses such rules and regulations. This is not to suggest that the majority of illegal entrants into the United States are criminals or diseased, but a percentage of this group are. Just how many criminal aliens are in the United States is difficult to determine primarily because many who are in custody either do not disclose their true status, or they are released before INS can remove them. Immigration Laws and the Illegal Alien Problem

    The basis of immigration law enforcement today is the McCarran-Walter Act or the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 The INA relied on a national origins quota system with a preference system for Eastern Hemisphere immigrants, and was concerned with excluding and removing subversives and communists. Since the INA, amendments have been added and the law changed in an apparent attempt to solve the illegal alien problem. This discussion does not attempt to analyze each amendment or law in any detail. The main issue is the apparent consequences of all the legislation. After INA, the Immigration Act of 1965 repealed the national origins quota system and all nations were given an equal chance to immigrate to the United States. Immigration Commissioners come and go with each Administration, but the only consistent pattern that has emerged since the 1970s is that the illegal alien population is growing at a rapid pace.

    The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 was signed into law by President Reagan and included amnesty for aliens who could establish residence in the United States since January 1, 1982, employer sanctions aimed at removing the lure of employment, and a special exemption for aliens employed in agricultural work. The Triennial Comprehensive Report on Immigration (USINS, 1999) showed that 2.7 million person gained lawful permanent residence as a direct result of IRCA. Although the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT90) that took effect in 1992, more than doubled the number of visas available to persons who qualified for employment-based immigration, it also attempted to begin removing aliens with aggravated felony convictions. This focus on removing criminal aliens continued with the addition of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) that attempted to apply retroactivity to aggravated alien felons in the United States. In addition to adding Border Patrol agents (5000) and interior enforcement agents (300) over several years, the IIRIRA also expedited removals of certain excludable aliens applying for admission into the United States. Needless to say, the various amendments are under continuous judicial review and this tends to neutralize the intent of the laws. Interior Enforcement

    Official statistics on interior enforcement are not readily available and generally highlight agency goals and priorities when they are. On March 1, 2003, the INS enforcement branch, which includes border enforcement and the investigations unit (interior enforcement), became part of the Department of Homeland Security-Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE). Whether or not this reorganization plan addresses the problem of interior enforcement of the immigration laws is yet to be seen. Although it is too early to tell, the focus appears to be on preventing terrorists from entering the United States. The processing of service related functions will remain within the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), however the role of the investigations unit (interior enforcement) is not clearly defined. Since 1924, when the Border Patrol began enforcing the immigration laws, enforcement policies were mostly concerned with agricultural labor and politics. An example is the well-known bracero program that enabled mostly Mexican laborers to pick fruit in the southwest. In the past, opposition to similar bracero programs (now referred to as guest worker programs) was based on fears that the temporary workers would not return home. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 included a provision for special agricultural workers, and Congress is presently considering legislation that would allow temporary workers in the United States.

    The General Accounting Office (GAO) criticized the INS for failing to remove criminal aliens in the United States. (Rabkin, 1999) In such cases, inefficiency can be quite serious as seen in the Resendez case. Angel Maturino-Resendez, found guilty of killing at least nine people and sentenced to death, was the subject of a nation wide manhunt. He turned himself in to authorities, but it was determined that INS previously had him in custody and released him. (Rayavan, 1999) It would seem that one of the easiest ways to apprehend an illegal alien is when that individual is already in the custody of another law enforcement entity. One has to wonder why the INS seems to have such difficulty deporting criminal aliens. Could shortage of special agents be the reason that only 3074 agents are available to cover 50 states (that is approximately 61 agents per state-2002 budget)? Or, is this an unofficial policy decision not to enforce immigration laws inside the United States?

    The INS estimated that there were 7 million illegal aliens residing in the United States in January 2000. According to INS, 69% of this unauthorized immigrant population was from Mexico. (USINS, 2003) However, the top 15 sending countries accounted for 89% of the total illegal alien population and included Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, China, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Brazil, Haiti, India, Peru, Korea, and Canada. This means that a significant number of illegal aliens entered the United States through other than the Mexico-US border and that they fall under the jurisdiction of the investigations section (interior enforcement), not the Border Patrol. These statistics further indicate that the illegal alien problem is both a border and an interior enforcement problem. More importantly, the interior problem seems to be far greater than the border problem. However, the INS never placed much emphasis on interior enforcement. As a matter of fact, there is very little interior enforcement of the immigration laws going on. Interior enforcement lags behind all other functions of the agency and the INS clearly prioritized the Border Patrol function.

    The two major functions of the INS include service to the public and enforcement. The service to the public involves processing applications for benefits such as lawful permanent residence and citizenship. The assumption is that INS allocates equal priority to both functions. Even in the area of service, where most organizations attempt to satisfy their mandates, backlogs in applications (especially citizenship) also continues to plague the INS. (Chang, 1999) Any intelligent immigration enforcement strategy must include border security and interior enforcement. Interior enforcement includes investigations, deportation, and inspections, all separate units within the legacy INS. BICE admitted that the INS devoted over five times more resources to the Border Patrol than the Investigations Section. It listed five enforcement strategies for interior enforcement to follow including locating and removing criminal aliens, dismantling smuggling operations, responding to community complaints about illegal immigration, investigating document and benefit fraud, and access to illegal aliens by employers. (Stana, 2003) The new policies correctly address needed priorities in order to accomplish a meaningful interior enforcement of the immigration laws. However, on October 23, 2003, five months after this new policy was offered as testimony before the U. S. Congress, BICE initiated what was referred to as �the largest crackdown in years,� (Greenhouse, 2003) Operation Rollback, a round up of 245 low-level workers who were part of cleanup crews for the Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Sanger, 2003) Although these illegal aliens were from 18 countries, most of them were from Mexico (37%). Interestingly, immigration officials stated that if these illegal aliens did not have a previous criminal record, they would be released with notices to appear before Immigration Judges. Even though BICE is behind in its attempts to remove criminal aliens it decided to launch an enforcement strategy aimed at low-level workers in menial jobs. Although Operation Rollback can be classified as one of the new priorities, it is hardly an effective way to deter illegal immigration. Wal-Mart immediately distanced itself from the investigation and pointed the finger at contract employees who were to blame. Some politicians actually referred to the operation as �terrorizing� workers and believed that there should be a �better way� to solve the problem such as focusing on the employer instead of the illegal worker. (Reuters, 2003) This type of enforcement strategy is traditional in its approach. It is meant to create the impression that something is being done about the illegal alien problem but serves little else in terms of solving it. It is very likely that the illegal aliens released with notices to appear later will never show up at their appointed hearings. I have discussed the problems of interior enforcement elsewhere and the conclusion drawn form interviews with members of the Investigations Section is that INS never intended to enforce the immigration laws inside the United States. The morale in the Investigations Unit in New York, and nationally as well, was so low that many officers simply gave up and transferred to other agencies in the government. (Weissinger, 1996)

    During the Cold War era, the interior enforcement operations of the INS focused on the location and removal of subversive aliens. In 1946, the INS created the investigator position (now special agent), and deported about 250 communists between 1947-1961. (Ottenberg, 1963) The essential ingredients of the McCarran-Walter Act, or the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 involved anti-immigrant sentiment derived from the Great Depression and World War II. It included the national origins quota system, had preferences for Eastern Hemisphere immigrants, and excluded the mentally ill, those with moral turpitude, certain diseases, and subversives. Historically, INS was primarily set up to somehow deal with a massive influx of third world entrants but never really dealt with that mandate very well. It appears that the Investigations Section serves to supplement the enforcement priority of the Border Patrol but actually provides a political safety net implying that something is being done about the illegal alien problem inside the United States. As such, the strategies of interior enforcement seem to shadow the INS border enforcement policies. Much of the evidence that surfaced after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center pointed to a breakdown of interior enforcement. More importantly, the problem is not just a Mexico-United States problem. In 1979, INS Special Agents made up only 9.1% of the INS workforce. The Border Patrol made up 41.9% of the 1979 INS workforce. In 2002, the INS requested that 47.4% of its workforce be Border Patrol officers and 12.8% criminal investigators. This partition of the workforce clearly indicates that the INS continues to focus its enforcement efforts on border enforcement and supports the belief that the INS ignores interior enforcement. Policy makers and the INS do not seem to want to enforce interior immigration laws, although they reportedly have begun to focus on criminal aliens. (Branigin, 1999) Since the 1970�s and up until the passage of IRCA, interior enforcement concentrated on locating illegal aliens in the workplace utilizing what was then referred to as Area Control Illegal Status (ACIS) units. The ACIS units were very successful when they were allowed to operate, but INS found ways to bring ACIS to a grinding halt. Ceasing field operations to accommodate the Census as well as restricting automobile use due to gasoline shortages made it impossible for the units to do their work effectively. Coupled with the already small size of the Investigations Unit, interior enforcement of the immigration laws was essentially symbolic. INS also relied on investigators to participate in adjudication task forces to assist service personnel functions. Even though investigators complained that INS should focus on more serious offenders and criminal aliens, INS continued to emphasize the apprehension of low-level visa abusers in the work place and prioritize the service mission.

    An analysis of the types of removals completed by the INS reflects that criminal removals are far fewer than the non-criminal removals. This seems to reflect that little has changed in the overall priority of INS to concentrate on low-level visa abusers rather than more serious offenders. The figures indicate that the low-level visa abusers (non-criminal) are employed in low paying jobs such as bus-boys, day laborers, or cleaners like the Wal-Mart crews. A General Accounting Office study found that INS failed to locate at least half of the deportable aliens in prison (other than INS custody) and this cost the almost $40 million in subsequent detention costs. (Rabkin, 1999)

    In addition, a sample of apprehended aliens in the New York INS District Office (NYDO) reinforced the idea that the illegal alien population is diverse, and includes a significant percentage of criminality (at least 12% had criminal records). The INS Monthly Statistical Report for 2001 showed that total alien removals of all deportable aliens decreased 20% compared to the same period a year before. Criminal aliens removed decreased 13% and non-criminal aliens showed a 24% decrease for the same period. In other studies, it is reported that the INS failed to remove as many as 90% of the criminal aliens in the United States. (Schuck, 1999)

    The Labeling Approach and the Illegal Alien

    Why does the INS continue to focus on border apprehensions and ignore interior enforcement and more serious offenders? A look at some theoretical and methodological issues could provide an answer to this conundrum. The labeling approach takes into account the fact that deviance is whatever those in power want it to be. Official statistics provide very little information about those who elude interior detection. However, it does offer some information on those illegal aliens who elude Border Patrol detection. The labeling approach offered a useful way to determine how INS defined the problem, thereby directing attention to a failed border enforcement strategy. Under labeling, the INS would seem to provide an excellent focus of attention and a better description of the illegal alien problem. I sought a model that could take these concerns into account. �More recently, however, a revisionist position has emerged which suggests that it may be premature to dismiss societal reaction as irrelevant to crime causation.� (Cullen, 1999, p. 272) Described by Hawkins and Tiedeman (1975) as rules-in-use I approached the problem of defining the illegal alien as a process of negotiation between the control agency (INS) and the environment in which it operated. (Weissinger, 1996) I have come to accept the idea that definitions about the illegal alien vary from context to context. It serves no purpose to accept the normative definition applied to the illegal alien as definitive in describing the illegal alien population. In context, the severity of the problem itself varies from one individual or group to another.

    The sheer number of apprehensions along the Mexico-U.S. border often lures the observer to accept them as representative of the illegal alien problem. In 2002, the INS apprehended 1,062,279 deportable aliens in the United States and 94% of those apprehensions were from Mexico. Also, in 1978 when I collected a sample of apprehended aliens in the New York District, I found that 11.5% were from Mexico. Between 1987 and 2002, the average number of Mexican apprehensions in New York rose to 18.4%. However, one should also be impressed by the apparent avoidance of interior enforcement by the INS. I have discussed these issues elsewhere and found that the INS investigators did not believe their agency was serious about enforcing the immigration laws inside the United States. (Weissinger, 1996)

    As such, labeling may explain the apparent contradictory definitions of the illegal alien as deviant, or undocumented worker. The absence of any clear agreement on the seriousness of the illegal alien problem, coupled with the mythical notion that a problem might not even exist, or that illegal aliens are more contributors than drainers on society, encourages continued recidivism. Unlike most criminological studies that focus on the offender, labeling concentrates on the control agents that define the population. (Cullen, 1999)

    For the illegal alien, the informal societal reactions may, in fact, perpetuate the condition we experience in the United States. Certainly, friends and acquaintances will come to accept the illegal as part of the community, even protecting them. For these groups, familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather fosters acceptance by the significant other audience. Also, the illegal alien might easily be classified as trivial and, as such, a candidate for labeling analysis. In addition, conflicting values serve to further confuse the existing dilemma we know as the illegal alien problem. Generally, individuals will support the view that violation of law is unacceptable behavior. Of course, many laws are prohibited not because they are inherently evil or wrong, but simply because they are enacted (mala prohibita). Immigration law violations are examples of this type of enacted law. On the other hand, illegal aliens often surface as victims of their own status. Unsafe living and working conditions contribute to the sympathetic response from mainstream society. Even trying to enter the United States illegally is often a dangerous strategy since smuggled aliens often succumb to the dangers of such attempts. The increased security measures along the southwest border make it more difficult and dangerous for illegal aliens to cross over into the United States. (Nevins, 2002)

    Labeling theory relies on the definitions of those who create the label, not the law violator caught up in the net of enforcement. The players in this model contribute to the overall definition of the label. (Hawkins, 1975; Bustamante, 1972) Lawmakers define the illegal alien, and social control agencies enforce these laws. The environment in which this takes place includes other labelers. Becker referred to this group as moral entrepreneurs. (Becker, 1989) Bustamante referred to the link between Congress and the Border Patrol under the umbrella the researcher called antilaw entrepreneurs. In this model, the moral entrepreneurs decide the parameters of the illegal alien problem. Bustamante focuses on the enforcement of the immigration laws along the southwest border. There, most of the apprehensions are of Mexican nationals and involve attempted entry without inspection. When we shift to the interior of the United States, the demographics change. The available official statistics on interior apprehensions are hidden inside the INS' annual reports. Most of the illegal aliens apprehended inside the United States entered through ports of entry, not without inspection, and simply overstay the time authorized by the INS. It is suggested that most of these illegal aliens, who entered as documented aliens (not undocumented as they are routinely labeled) make up a significant portion of the illegal population inside the United States. Labeling theory offers insights into otherwise hidden populations and those who elude detection. These groups include the numerous individuals who violate their immigration status by accepting unauthorized employment (such as foreign visitors who decide to work in the United States, especially students), and those who enter into fraudulent document schemes in an effort to stay in the United States. For example, a comparison between the official statistics offered by the INS and the NYDO sample shows a striking difference. I used the NYDO sample because it is a useful example of otherwise scant information on apprehended alien activity. Although dated, the data is useful in comparing official statistics that define the illegal alien problem as a Mexico-United States problem to interior apprehended alien activity; at least at the time the data was collected. The North and Houstoun study (1976), conducted just before the NYDO sample data, suggested, �A probability sample of apprehended illegals could in principle be designed, but it would be of limited interest.� (Ibid. p. 34) According to North and Houstoun, it would be inappropriate to make inferences about other illegal alien populations, especially those that eluded detection and established residency. In the absence of any other credible database that describes illegal aliens inside the United States, the NYDO sample can be useful in making inferences at least about apprehended aliens in the New York area. Beyond that, inferences might be made to populations in large urban areas in general. Hopefully, a similar national database of interior enforcement activity could be useful in describing current interior demographics of the illegal alien population. The comparison also shows the priority INS places on the Border Patrol and illegal immigration from Mexico. There are some remarkable similarities, but clearly more striking differences in the data on Mexico. Obviously, much more research is needed to determine the demographics of the illegal alien inside the United States. It is remarkable that official statistics from INS about interior enforcement operations is available but not usually published, or readily accessible.

    The use of official statistics can minimize the parameters of the illegal alien population, especially inside the United States. For criminal investigators, it was incomprehensible that the INS would shut down internal enforcement in response to Census Bureau concerns. Yet, that is exactly what happened. Needless to say, the logic of such an action is aggravated by the fact that few illegal aliens will ever fill out a census questionnaire. However, the ability of such entrepreneurs to adversely impact interior enforcement operations is best explained by the moral entrepreneur theory. Statistics will provide good information about those who get apprehended, but virtually no information about those who do not. Since most illegal aliens who successfully elude the Border Patrol, or become illegal after a legal entry, this is an important methodological consideration. In 1976, North and Houstoun pointed out that ��the number, distribution, characteristics, and impact of illegal aliens in the nation are unknown.� (p. 31) The INS essentially ignores interior enforcement and continues to focus on low-level visa abusers allocating most of its resources to the Border Patrol. Once an alien enters the United States illegally, the chances of apprehension decrease tremendously. Current estimates indicate that there are at least 7 million illegal aliens in the United States and that 68.7% of that total is from Mexico.

    In the past, such data relating to interior enforcement was superimposed under Border Patrol/Enforcement Activity by the INS. Interior enforcement activity describes characteristics of the illegal alien population inside the United States. This is especially relevant in determining the characteristics of those immigration law violators that elude the Border Patrol, or entered the United States other than across a land border. Such information is also important because it describes a segment of the illegal alien population somewhat different than the typical smuggled alien, or border-crosser. Since 1996, official INS statistics and Yearbooks devote a section to Accomplishments of the Investigations Section that was absent previously. Since 1996, when INS began publishing data on Investigations apprehensions there has been a steady increase in interior apprehensions. In 2002, the Border Patrol apprehended 955,310 illegal aliens or 89.9% of all illegal aliens apprehended, and the Investigations Program apprehended the remaining aliens averaging 7.7% of all apprehensions throughout this period. Border Enforcement

    The perception that the illegal alien problem begins and ends at the international borders is widely accepted. However, it is important to note that many illegal entries at the border are successful. Furthermore, many illegal aliens entered legally as temporary visitors at ports of entry throughout the United States. In 1996, about 41 percent of the illegal alien population were nonimmigrant overstays. That is, they entered the United States with tourist visas. (USINS, 2001) However, as indicated previously, the INS measures its effectiveness in terms of the numbers of Mexicans it apprehends along the southwest border of the United States. Well over 90% of annual apprehensions of illegal aliens are along the southwest border and are apprehensions of Mexican border crossers. The Border Patrol approach to the illegal alien problem is essentially a Mexico-United States problem.

    The national strategy to contain the flow of Mexican border crossers included Operation Gatekeeper in California, Hold the Line and Rio Grande in Texas and New Mexico, Safeguard in Arizona, and the northern border/coastal initiatives. Essentially, the Border Patrol believed that increasing manpower in various sectors would deter attempts at illegal entry. However, these strategies were akin to a shell game wherein one sector would decrease apprehensions as a result of the added manpower, but apprehensions in other sectors would increase to accommodate the spill over. According to Nevins (2002), the deterrent effect was neutralized in Operation Gatekeeper and the illegal aliens shifted their efforts toward the deserts and mountains in attempting to enter the United States. We now find that illegal aliens are dying in the dessert as a result of these strategies. The United States Border Patrol reported that 151 illegal aliens died attempting to illegally cross from Mexico into the United States during a twelve-month period ending September 30, 2003. Human rights groups increased that number to 205 stating that the Border Patrol did not include bodies found by local law enforcement. (Riley, 2003) The fatalities are indicative of the desperation of the border crossers. Conclusion

    In conclusion, the INS focuses its enforcement efforts on illegal aliens that entered the United States through the Mexico-US border, or on Mexican nationals. Again, this confirms that the INS defines the illegal alien problem as a Mexico-US problem and continues to prioritize enforcement strategies that concentrate on apprehending primarily Mexican border crossers. Although millions of illegal aliens are apprehended utilizing this strategy, most were simply granted voluntary departure and allowed to return to Mexico. However, the alien could simply turn around and make another attempt, almost immediately. Even after enhanced punishments for reentry after deportation were added to legislation, aliens were not deterred from making reentry attempts because prosecutors declined to prosecute such cases. Also, as a byproduct of their efforts Border Patrol Agents seized about 1.4 million pounds of marijuana and 30,593 pounds of cocaine in 2002. (USDHS, 2003) The data suggests that the illegal alien problem is more diverse than just a Mexico-US problem, especially the farther one travels from the southwest border. More important issues involving terrorism and crime should be the priority of any immigration law enforcement strategy. The interior enforcement apparatus continues to be based on a Border Patrol mentality. This mentality continues to focus on allocating most of the available resources on a cat and mouse game that has failed to deter the illegal entry of aliens into the United States. Utilizing this definition and applying such an enforcement strategy detracts from other critical needs and limits the scope of interior immigration law enforcement.

    In order to solve the illegal alien problem a completely new approach is needed. One important change should consider the reason why aliens illegally enter the United States. Although BICE correctly lists removing the lure of employment as a priority, it would require massive resources in trying to enforce essentially labor related laws. The main determinant of most of the illegal entries is an economic and labor related one and dealing with labor issues belongs more appropriately in the Department of Labor, not BICE. Once the real priorities of immigration enforcement are known, BICE can get to work and accomplish its mission. Arresting busboys, landscapers, and cleanup crews should not be part of this strategy. Removing criminal aliens from our prisons, and preventing terrorist activity should be. At this time, BICE is merely giving token attention to these more important problems. Given its limited resources, this is to be expected.

    Focusing on the apprehension of low-level visa abusers primarily from Mexico most assuredly contributed to the failure of the INS to monitor more serious law violators (such as terrorists and other criminals). Perhaps a more progressive interior enforcement strategy that included an emphasis on criminal aliens and a shift away from the Border Patrol mentality of enforcement could provide the answer. Although increasing manpower in BICE does not guarantee that the illegal alien problem will be solved, the lack of resources allocated to interior enforcement requires immediate attention. If there were as many INS special agents as there were Border Patrol agents it may not have been necessary to split the agency in the first place. More importantly, if the legacy INS policy makers had taken their interior enforcement obligations seriously perhaps the tragedy of 9/11/2001 could have been prevented.


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    Weissinger, G. (1996). Law Enforcement & the INS: A Participant Observation Study of Control Agents. MD: University Press.


    1. The Center for Immigration Studies describes itself as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organization with a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted. As such, it has an inherent bias against illegal immigration. This does not mean that their data is flawed, or inaccurate. Retrieved from

    2. An immigrant is a permanent resident alien lawfully admitted into the United States and is allowed to work in the United States and remain in the United States indefinitely. A non-immigrant alien is one that is lawfully admitted into the United States for a temporary period of time. Except for some classifications of non-immigrants specifically entitled to work (such as intra-company transferees, or diplomats) non-immigrants are not permitted to work in the United States without permission from the INS.

    3. If an alien makes an application for admission into the United States, that individual could be rejected if found to be within any of the exclusionary categories of aliens outlined in the I&N Act. Examples of excludable aliens include criminals, prostitutes, those with communicable diseases, and members of communist, or subversive organizations.

    4. INS proposed a restructuring of the agency on 11/14/01. In this proposal, INS plans to split immigration services and enforcement functions into two separate bureaus. However, the agency will still be under one Commissioner. The proposal also mandates that service continue to have access to relevant information in adjudicating benefits applications ��each with a distinct chain of command but operating within the same agency.� Retrieved from

    5. Michael J. Garcia, appointed Acting Commissioner of the INS in November 2002, was a career federal prosecutor. Asa Hutchinson, also a former career federal prosecutor, was appointed head of the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security (BTS) and will run the 100,000 employee agency responsible for securing the nation�s borders and transportation infrastructure. Retrieved from

    6. Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) presented a bill in Congress that would allow about 500,000 illegal farm workers to gain legal resident status. Retrieved from:,1713,BDC_2420_2375912,00.html

    7. Deportation is the removal of an alien from the United States without any punishment (incarceration/fine). Many argue that deporting a poor person is tantamount to sentencing the individual to a life of impoverishment. This is an ethical consideration, not a legal one.

    8. Based on a sample of arrest reports (N=759, I-213, Record of Deportable Alien), New York District INS, statistics quoted throughout. This sample will be presented in more detail in the 2nd edition of Law Enforcement & the INS to be published in 2004.

    9. The use of the term undocumented is not a trivial oversight. Being undocumented implies several things. On the one hand, it implies that the suspect merely failed to obtain documents in some attempt to enter the U. S., or that the alien would otherwise be admissible if documented. An important difference in perception occurs when the label is applied.




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