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The True Cost of Immigration Policy Exceeds $18 Billion

by Lucas Eaves, published

Is the cost of immigration policies too high?

A report released on Monday by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) revealed that immigration enforcement constitutes, by far, the biggest budget of all federal law enforcement entities, reaching a total of $18 billion. Despite the report concluding that immigration policies appear to be working to limit immigration, it also raises the question of if the cost of immigration policies is too high?

Following the release of the report, the media focus has been on the fact that the budget of the different immigration enforcement agencies, which include the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US-Visit program, and the Customs and Border Protection, reached $18 billion in 2012. It tops the combined budgets of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Secret Service by about $3.6 billion, according to the MPI.

The report also shows that as a consequence of the economical crisis in the US and economic development in Mexico, the number of interceptions at America's southern borders fell to a 40 year low and the number of illegal immigrants has reach a standstill after years of increase. With the coming debt reduction discussions in Congress, the justification of such high costs will very likely be questioned.

Also raised in this report is the question of the human cost of immigration policies. The continuous increase in budget has been coupled with a necessary increase in illegal immigration interception and detention. Today more non-citizens have been removed from the United States than ever before, reaching 410,000 removals in 2012.

In order to obtain these results, court ordered removal has been coupled with administrative orders that allow expulsion. Administrative orders now constitute more than 50% of all removal. This process is handled by members of the Department of Homeland Security, in which non-citizens do not receive basic due process protections and are rarely represented by an attorney.

Even in front of immigration courts, where fair procedures are normally applicable, the increasing numbers of cases is endangering the protection of non-citizens' rights. Non-citizens in removal proceedings  are not entitled to legal counsel at the government's expense. The lack of availability of translators also adds to a less-than-fair system of removal.

Moreover, during these proceedings, non-citizen immigrants are usually detained. The number of detainees increased from 85,730 in 1995 to 429,247 in 2011, including men, women, children, and the elderly. Less than 5% of the case load is in alternative detention programs, despite a 94% rate of appearance at their hearing date. This "lock them up" approach, as well the terrible conditions of detention, have been criticized over and over by human right groups.

Recently, improvements have been made, however. In March 2012, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement opened its first detention center, which takes into account the civil rather than criminal nature of the detention period. This, however, remains only a small step when considering that there are, by a wide margine, many more immigration detainees than other incarcerated persons for all federal crimes combined -- despite only having a small margin of high risk detainees.

The monetary and extreme human costs of the United States' immigration policy will need to be taken into account when the 113th Congress addresses immigration reform, which the Obama administration is likely to present soon.

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