Saturday, April 15, 2006

“An immigration system that forces people into the shadows of our society or leaves them prey to criminals is a system that needs to be changed,” President Bush said last week at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

He was right that the system needs to be changed. But he was wrong that it forces people into the shadows.

On Monday, throngs of reportedly more than 1 million people nationwide, many of them undoubtedly illegal aliens, demonstrated just how wrong the president was by massing in our public squares to demand U.S. citizenship for illegal aliens. Illegal aliens are not forced into the shadows of our society. They parade in the streets.

It may be more accurately argued that U.S. immigration law-enforcement officers are forced into the shadows.

When The Washington Times asked an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official how many of the demonstrators were illegal aliens, the ICE official said, “It’s just impossible to know unless you sent agents to the rallies and asked every single person to prove they are legal residents.”

The official told the Times, as the paper put it, that ICE “could not use its 5,500 investigators assigned to myriad cases to question more than 1 million protesters.” Talk about being outnumbered.

Had Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff sent all 5,500 ICE agents to Monday’s demonstrations, the approximately 1 million demonstrators would have outnumbered the ICE agents about 182 to 1.

If Mr. Chertoff had taken all 11,000 U.S. Border Patrolmen off the border for the day and assigned them to work with all 5,500 ICE agents on checking the legal status of Monday’s demonstrators, the protesters would have outnumbered the 16,500 immigration law-enforcement officers by about 61 to 1.

Assuming there are 11.5 million to 12 million illegal aliens in this country, as the Pew Hispanic Center estimated last month, illegal aliens would outnumber DHS’ 16,500 combined Border Patrol and ICE agents by as much as 727 to 1.

But in a January 2005 report, “The Underground Labor Force Is Rising to the Surface,” Bear Stearns analysts Robert Justich and Betty Ng estimated there were as many as 20 million illegal aliens in the United States. If they are correct, illegal aliens may already outnumber our combined Border Patrol and ICE agents by 1,212 to 1.

When you focus only on the jobs Mr. Justich and Ms. Ng calculate illegal aliens hold in the United States, the odds aren’t much better. “Undocumented immigrants are gaining a larger share of the job market, and hold approximately 12 million to 15 million jobs in the United States [8 percent of the employed],” wrote Mr. Justich and Ms. Ng. At the upper end of their range, that puts the combined forces of the Border Patrol and ICE at a 909-to-1 disadvantage.

But the truth is the U.S. government dedicates only a small fraction of its immigration law-enforcement officers to work-site enforcement. According to testimony presented in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration last June by Richard Stana, the Government Accountability Office’s director of Homeland Security issues, ICE used the equivalent of just 90 full-time agents in fiscal 2003 for that task.

Mr. Stana told me last week there has not been much change since 2003 in the manpower ICE devotes to work-site enforcement, and that a “large part” of that modest force is devoted to enforcement at “critical infrastructure” work sites, such as power plants and airports, that could be targeted by terrorists. That leaves a small remnant of agents targeting more ordinary employers of illegal aliens.

“If you take the 2003 number of 90 agents devoted to work-site enforcement,” said Mr. Stana, “within that 90, there is a subset, and it’s a rather larger one, that’s devoted to work-site enforcement that could have a nexus to national security, which means if you take ‘x’ out of 90 it leaves 90-minus-x to do traditional work-site enforcement in areas where there are high concentrations of unauthorized workers.”

The upshot: Illegal aliens can work in the United States with virtual impunity, and employers can hire them with virtual impunity. In fiscal 2004, for example, DHS informed only three U.S. employers it intended to fine them for hiring illegal aliens.

“In its fiscal 2007 budget justification,” Mr. Stana testified on March 28, “DHS requested funds to support the addition of 206 positions — 171 of which are special agents — to conduct work-site enforcement.”

Assuming that will give ICE around 300 agents doing work-site enforcement nationwide, and taking Bear Stearns’ low-end estimate of 12 million jobs held by illegal aliens, that would bring the ratio of illegal-alien-held jobs to work-site-enforcement agents to about 40,000 to 1.

Terence P. Jeffrey is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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