Attrition Through Enforcement—Government’s Own Data Point To A Cost-Effective Strategy

Government's Own Data Show Point to a Cost-Effective Strategy

Contact: Jessica Vaughan, (202) 466-8185

WASHINGTON (April 2006) — Proponents of mass legalization of the illegal alien population often justify this radical step by suggesting that the only alternative a broad campaign to remove illegal aliens by force is unworkable. One study fancifully suggested that the cost of such a deportation strategy would be $206 billion over the next five years.

But mass forced removal is not the only alternative to mass legalization. A third way is to seek attrition of the illegal population through law enforcement, encouraging illegal aliens to give up and leave of their own accord.

A new analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies uses a variety of federal government data to demonstrate that such a strategy of attrition, combined with a stronger border security effort such as the administration's Secure Border Initiative (SBI), can significantly reduce the size of the illegal alien population at a reasonable cost.

The report, by CIS Senior Policy Analyst Jessica Vaughan, finds that, according to the government's own cost estimates, an attrition strategy could cut the illegal population by nearly half in five years, with an additional investment of less than $2 billion, or $400 million per year an increase of less than 1 percent of the President's 2007 budget request for the Department of Homeland Security ($42.7 billion).

The report, ''Attrition Through Enforcement: A Cost-Effective Strategy to Shrink the Illegal Population,'' is on line at and includes the following additional findings:

* Elements of an attrition strategy would include: mandatory workplace verification of immigration status; measures to curb misuse of Social Security and IRS identification numbers; partnerships with state and local law enforcement officials; expanded entry-exit recording under US-VISIT; increased non-criminal removals; and state and local laws to discourage illegal settlement.

* An attrition strategy could reduce the illegal population by as many as 1.5 million illegal aliens each year. Currently, only about 183,000 illegal aliens per year depart without the intervention of immigration officials, according to DHS statistics.

* Persuading illegals to leave of their own accord works faster and is cheaper than a borders-only approach to immigration law enforcement. For example, under the controversial NSEERS program launched after 9/11, DHS removed roughly 1,500 illegally-resident Pakistanis; over the same time period, in response to the registration requirements, about 15,000 illegal Pakistani immigrants left the country on their own.

* Requiring employers to verify the status of workers could deny jobs to about three million illegal workers in three years, affecting at least one-third of the illegal population. This measure is a central feature of H.R. 4437, the enforcement measure passed by the House of Representatives in December, and is estimated to cost just over $400 million over five years.

* The Internal Revenue Service knows the name, address, and place of employment of millions of illegal aliens, and issues hundreds of millions of dollars in tax refunds and tax credits to illegal aliens. Changing the laws to provide for information-sharing would help boost immigration law enforcement at minimal cost.

* US-VISIT border registration program is a critical tool in curbing illegal immigration. Screening must be expanded to include Mexicans and Canadians, and DHS must move forward to deploy an exit-recording system. These steps should be a prerequisite to adding or expanding any visa program.

* Less than 10 percent of the investigative resources of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are devoted to fraud, workplace violations, and overstayers. DHS could double non-criminal removals at a cost of roughly $120 million per year, balancing a ''broken windows'' approach with its current triage approach to interior enforcement.

* Laws enacted by the state governments of Florida and New York to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses have induced more illegal aliens to leave than have federal enforcement efforts against certain illegal populations in those states, and have come at virtually no cost to the federal government.

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Center for Immigration Studies
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