Contrary to the xenophobic hysteria of Donald Trump, the nation is not plagued by illegal immigrants.
It never has been.
The crisis is a concoction of Mr. Trump to fuel his ruthless craving for money, power and celebrity.
Four decades ago, I represented the Department of Justice on an Interagency Committee on Illegal Immigration. Estimates of the illegal population ranged as high as 11 million to 12 million, the same as today. The vast majority satisfy a domestic demand for labor. They do not pick up stakes and undertake harrowing journeys in hopes of becoming welfare kings or queens.
Stability in the numbers is unsurprising. Think of this analogy. The incidence of drug abuse has remained stable over the past 44 years despite President Nixon’s declaration of a “war on drugs” in 1971, and the expenditure of more than $1 trillion on enforcement. The laws of supply and demand cannot be defeated by Trump-like barks.
Illegal immigration is innocuous, not harmful. The problem does not require disturbing the status quo.
The incidence of non-immigration crimes within the group of illegals is probably the same or less than for the general population. There are no authoritative studies. But the crime rate for legal immigrants is quantum levels less than for the population of a whole. And El Paso and San Diego, both of which sport significant illegal alien populations, have the lowest crime rates in the United States. Further, no study establishes a correlation between national crime rates and the number of illegal immigrants.
Terrorism is the crime of greatest concern.
According to a New America Foundation study, since 9/11, non-Muslim extremists legally present in the United States have murdered 48 in terrorist crimes. Self-proclaimed jihadists, including citizens like Fort Hood’s Major Malik Nidal Hasan and the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, have slain 26 during that interval, a fraction of the mayhem perpetrated by homegrown terrorists.
A survey of police and sheriff departments conducted by Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University showed that 74 percent are most worried about anti-government violence, but only 39 percent about al Qaeda inspired violence.
Illegal aliens pay income, sales, excise, property, or employment taxes approximating $12 billion annually according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The value of government welfare or social service benefits received by illegals is uncertain. But let’s assume it’s greater that the taxes they pay. That difference would be at most a decimal point in the nation’s annual $4.3 trillion budget or $1.7 trillion in annual state expenditures — not sufficient to justify revamping our existing immigration policies.
Illegal immigrants probably diminish rather than compound unemployment by facilitating business endeavors that would be stillborn or shipwrecked without their skill, labor, or ambition. That conclusion is consistent with a 2009 CATO report by Peter B .Dixon and Maureen T. Rimmer.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, up to 2 million Mexicans or Mexican Americans were deported or expelled without diminishing the unemployment rates of the Great Depression. Operation Wetback under President Dwight Eisenhower, recently touted by Mr. Trump did not cause unemployment to recede.
Our immigration laws are like other laws in that they are often violated with impunity. One-third of murders in the United States go unsolved. The clearance rate for violent crime is only 47.2 percent. Laws against gambling or drug use are routinely transgressed.
Immigration enforcement is irresolute because it seeks a humane and enlightened balance. On the one hand, we believe in the rule of law, and that immigrants who have applied according to the rules should be preferred to immigrants who have violated them. On the other hand, we respect, admire and encourage the discipline, ambition, and true grit of illegal immigrants that characterized our ancestors.
The optimal enforcement approach is moderation. We should not give amnesty, work permits or citizenship to illegals. But we should squint at them, and target only criminals for deportation.
The fanciful mass deportation cure proposed by Mr. Trump would be much worse than the disease.