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The Real Price of Sealing the Border

Authors: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, and James Ziglar
April 8, 2011
Wall Street Journal


It took a budget crisis of unprecedented proportions, but the U.S. Congress is finally starting to ask some tough questions about what it's getting for the billions of dollars that have been spent on securing the borders against illegal entry.

The immigration enforcement budget has more than tripled over the past decade, but only recently have some in Congress finally begun to demand a better accounting of the results. In a series of hearings, both Republicans and Democrats who oversee homeland security have sharply criticized the administration over its failure to state clear objectives and measure the outcomes.

The effort is long overdue. Congress and the administration have never defined "border security," have never spelled out how much immigration enforcement is "enough," and have not tried to bring immigration laws into line with the resources available for enforcement and the needs of our economy.

Here's a place to start. The U.S. government already has a rough idea what it would take to meet all the immigration mandates established by Congress, and the numbers are staggering. In 2002, one of us (Mr. Ziglar) initiated an unprecedented analysis of the massive, inconsistent patchwork of mandates imposed on the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) by Congress. Mr. Ziglar testified publicly on the conclusions of that study before the 9/11 Commission, but its findings have never been widely disseminated.

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