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Spring 2012 Vol. 12 Number 1



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Immigration Enforcement

Photo courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Better Planning Could Lead to
Better Performance

W hile illegal immigration across the southwest U.S. border hasdropped dramatically over the past decade, the legalconsequences for immigration-related offenses have skyrocketed because of more stringent enforcement policies. Decisions, mainly by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to allow fewer immigrants to return home voluntarily without legal action have put considerable demands on the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency responsible for overseeing civil and criminal immigration proceedings.

Despite much fewer apprehensions, immigration case filings increased 138 percent, and bookings for immigration-related offenses jumped 241 percent between 2001 and 2010. Yet evidence suggests that stricter enforcement tactics have had little deterrent effect on immigration: rather, the decline is likely due to economic factors. Thus, with resources already stretched thin, it is unclear how the system could handle higher volumes of activity if future illegal immigration increases to previous levels.

A National Research Council report examines the current immigration enforcement system, which is spread across DOJ, DHS, and the courts, and recommends changes in the way the agencies develop their budgets. Those changes would contribute to more cost-effective use of appropriated resources.

In the enforcement system, both national and local administrators adjust their operations to the level of resources that are available. In Tucson, for example, immigration hearings are capped at 70 cases per day, while in San Diego the number of prosecutions is determined by the number of beds available in detention facilities. Because immigration patterns and enforcement policies differ by location and change frequently, often with little warning, DOJ has found it a challenge to accurately estimate future resource needs.

The committee that wrote the report recommended that DHS and DOJ specify the expected goals of enforcement policies and set corresponding targets to measure the results. The committee recommended tracking individual case histories as a basis for analyzing how both costs and results of enforcement activities vary and highlight how local and national resource constraints and decisions affect how cases are handled. Better data on policy performance would contribute to better decisions about the cost-effective use of resources, the committee said.

The report also recommends that the two agencies coordinate their policy development, planning, and budgeting processes to ensure that the policies and strategies chosen to achieve specified goals match resources and increase their effective use.   -- Lauren Rugani


Budgeting for Immigration Enforcement: A Path to Better Performance. Committee on Estimating Costs of Immigration Enforcement in the Department of Justice, Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (2011, 125 pp.; ISBN 0-309-22122-6; available from National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $44.00 plus $5.00 shipping for single copies).

The committee was chaired by Peter Reuter, professor in the School of Public Affairs and in the department of criminology at the University of Maryland, College Park. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.



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Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences