Thursday, August 2, 2007
University of Maryland Law School Visiting Associate CrimProf Orde F. Kittrie spoke at the United States Department of Homeland Security about the connection between crime and the Southwest border on July 26. Kittrie's presentation was part of a day-long conference entitled "Southwest Border Crime: Understanding the Issues" which included audience members from all over the United States, including representatives of numerous state and local police agencies, the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Defense Department.
Kittrie began his remarks by noting that "while the conventional wisdom among immigration hardliners is that unauthorized immigrants are disproportionately violent and a net drain on the U.S. economy, the conventional wisdom on the left is that illegal immigration is harmless, a kind of victimless crime."
"Neither is correct," said Kittrie. Kittrie said the evidence tends to show that unauthorized immigrants do not commit a higher proportion of crimes (other than immigration violations) than the rest of the U.S. population. Kittrie also said that unauthorized immigrants likely represent a net gain to the U.S. economy. He referred to a recent University of Arizona study estimating that the costs to the state of all unauthorized immigrants are about $1 billion per year but if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Arizona’s workforce, economic output would drop annually by at least $29 billion, or 8.2 percent.
Kittrie emphasized, however, that these statistics do not mean that there is no need to fix the currently broken immigration system. "Although the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants to the U.S. are likely good people who do not commit crimes other than immigration violations and are a net benefit to the U.S. economy," said Kittrie, "the process by which they are currently entering the U.S. is causing great harm."
Kittrie explained that the collateral damage from the smuggling routes and criminal enterprises by which unauthorized immigrants enter the United States includes: rising levels of corruption among federal, state and local border officials; frequent theft of autos for use in transporting unauthorized immigrants; routes and techniques that terrorists can use to enter the U.S.; hundreds of deaths per year of unauthorized immigrants; increased infiltration into the U.S. of dangerous Mexican drug cartels; growth in violent street gangs such as MS-13; and environmental damage.
Kittrie noted that another cost of the current broken immigration system is the rampant abuse and exploitation of the estimated 12 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S. Kittrie said that unauthorized immigrants’ reluctance to call the police lest they be deported is regularly exploited by unscrupulous employers, common criminals, battering spouses, corrupt government officials, and border vigilantes. When so many persons within the U.S. feel they have no choice but to suffer crimes in silence, said Kittrie, the unpunished crimes do not only harm the unauthorized immigrants. For example, unaddressed crimes in the labor area, such as the rampant nonpayment or underpayment of wages to unauthorized immigrants, can drive down wages for legal workers who are forced to compete with employer preferences for exploitable unauthorized immigrants. In addition, street criminals emboldened by success in committing crimes unreported by their unauthorized immigrant victims may go on to commit crimes against citizens. Kittrie concluded that the need for immigration reform is urgent, although not for the reasons focused on by the conventional wisdom.