The Role of State and Local Governments in Immigration Enforcement

The Role of State and Local Governments in Immigration Enforcement


As the American dream becomes increasingly elusive for U.S. citizens, state and local lawmakers have a decision to make. They can stand back and watch as America's immigration system is systematically undermined by non-enforcement policies and special interests, or they can stand up and look for solutions to help maintain the rule of law and institute policies that guarantee fairness and opportunity for all Americans.



With few prospects for true immigration reform at the federal level, FAIR believes that action by state and local governments is key to upholding the integrity of our nation’s immigration laws. To be sure, action by Congress to address weaknesses in our immigration system—both by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate—has been fundamentally absent for years. Barring the exception of a few key leaders, any talk of the impact of illegal immigration and unchecked legal immigration on jobs, public safety, or national security is nil in the halls of Congress. Rather, each year it seems that the same players continue to push the same tired amnesty legislation, while the vast majority of Americans light up the Congressional switchboard to voice their opposition.

Such shortcomings by the legislative branch, however, pale in comparison to the outright proactive dismantling of enforcement by the executive branch. Interior enforcement of federal immigration laws is now almost nonexistent. Since 2009, the Obama administration has enforced the laws as it wishes they were, not as the laws actually are or were intended to be, thus guaranteeing that most of the 12 million illegal aliens residing in the U.S. will never face deportation. This is creating a powerful incentive for millions more to enter.

Additionally, President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has enacted amnesty by executive fiat, allowing millions of illegal aliens to enjoy immunity from the law and obtain affirmative benefits such as work permits, all under the guise of so-called “prosecutorial discretion.” The Obama administration has also permitted hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors and families to freely cross the border while facilitating their transportation to illegal alien relatives in the U.S. at taxpayer expense. Finally, the administration has endangered America’s national security through its insistence on importing thousands of Syrian refugees whom the President’s own chief intelligence officers admit cannot be properly vetted.

The consequences of this calamitous mix of Congressional inaction and executive fiat on immigration are most acutely felt by the state and local governments. In 2010, FAIR examined the cost of illegal immigration on U.S. taxpayers, and in particular, to the individual states. FAIR concluded that illegal immigration costs taxpayers approximately $113 billion each year. A substantial majority of that annual price tag—an astounding $84 billion—is paid for by state and local governments, while the federal burden is less than $29 billion. FAIR’s study examined the fiscal impact of illegal immigration in several key areas, including the cost of education, health care, justice and law enforcement, public assistance, and general government services. Of all the categories, education for the children of illegal aliens constitutes the single largest cost to taxpayers, at an annual price tag of nearly $52 billion. Nearly all of those costs are absorbed by state and local governments.

So, with Congress in a stalemate, and President Obama doing everything within (and outside) of his power to proactively dismantle enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws, what hope do struggling state and local governments have?