On immigration, conservatives advocate attrition through enforcement, not mass deportation.
Richard Nadler complains that his critics didn’t address his main premise: that conservatives are advocating “mass deportation,” and that such a position is sure to alienate Hispanic voters. That’s because there are no serious advocates of “mass deportation.”
If conservatives were in fact supporting the mass roundup and deportation of 11–12 million people, losing the Hispanic vote would be the least of our problems. But, of course, mass deportation is not the only alternative to amnesty. Instead, the position that many conservatives (and others) actually favor is attrition through enforcement — a reduction over time in the illegal population through consistent, comprehensive application of the law, something we have never really attempted.
The principle behind an attrition policy is simple enough: dissuade more prospective illegals from coming and get more of those already here to leave — partly through increasing regular deportations but mostly through voluntary return. The result would not be a magical disappearance of the problem but a reversal of the trend, so that the total number of illegals starts decreasing with each year, instead of increasing.
This can be accomplished through a variety of means. Limiting the arrival of new illegals involves not only additional fencing and other border-control measures, but also tighter standards in permitting the admission of visitors (people who overstayed their visas account for a quarter to half of all illegals). The key to encouraging self-deportation is to make it as difficult as possible for illegals to live a normal life here — getting a job, opening a bank account, driving a car. None of these things require tanks or machine guns, just the consistent application of existing law and the spread of tools like E-Verify, an online system that enables employers to check the legal status of new hires.
This is not fanciful. My organization’s analysis of Census Bureau surveys, confirmed by the Pew Hispanic Center, suggests that the illegal population peaked at 12.5 million in August of 2007, shortly after the collapse of the Bush-Kennedy-McCain amnesty bill in the Senate, and through May of 2008 had declined to 11.2 million. And, unlike in past recessions, which were not preceded by stepped-up enforcement, this decline in the illegal population started before the unemployment rate for illegals began to increase. In other words, attrition works.
It’s also preferred by the public. During the 2006 amnesty debate, we commissioned a Zogby poll offering respondents not the false choice between mass deportation or amnesty (a word we did not use in the survey), but rather a three-way choice between mass deportation, earned legalization, and attrition — and attrition was preferred two-to-one over legalization.
Unfortunately, the new administration shares Nadler’s distaste for enforcement and penchant for dishonestly equating an attrition approach with mass deportation. Thus we can expect that the reversal of illegal immigration that we’ve seen over the past year or so to stop.