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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

A Sweet Yet Subtle Irony: How The Attrition Through Enforcement Approach Could Ultimately Insure Comprehensive Immigration Reform

by Robert Gittelson

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article titled, "The Enforcement Only Approach: Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It." In that article, I explained that the enforcement only approach toward solving our nations immigration woes, and in particular the concept of "attrition through enforcement," were not only short sighted, but if fully implemented would have disastrous results on several fronts, including humanitarian, political, and economic. Thankfully, to date, we have in reality only had what I call, "The Enforcement Only Approach - Light", in which we only have had increased enforcement, but it has been comparatively minor in scope versus full-blown enforcement. The enforcement to date, while tragic to those that have been caught up in it's seemingly random net, has really been more for show then for substance.

That being said, I am sure that the founding fathers of the attrition through enforcement approach, such as the Center For Immigration Studies, have been celebrating the news that illegal migration to our country has been slowing. I hope and pray that they are quick to declare victory, as I suspect that they will. After all, a recent Pew Hispanic Center research report has documented that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has decreased from 12.4 million in 2007 to 11.9 million in 2008. Clearly the attrition theory has been proven to be correct, and they are right, so I was wrong. Well, let's hope that they will think so, because, ironically, this is the best possible news for proponents of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Clearly, the major hurdle in the battle to convince the congressional opponents of CIR to enact that legislation, has been that they have been insisting that we have to wait until the border is secure, or that we at least have a handle on illegal entry. At least, that has been the rallying cry of antagonists such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the vocal leader of the CIR opponents. Also, the Republican co-author in the Senate of CIR, Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain, has insisted that he would, if elected, try to pass the CIR legislation, but only after the southern border has been certified to be secure. While he probably will not be elected President, if he were, he could tell the border governors that it is now politically safe and expedient to certify that their borders are secure, as the illegal immigration numbers are very much down.

Certainly, now that the illegal immigration numbers are very much down and under control, the opponents of CIR will eventually have to take a different tack, and discover a new reason why they need to oppose CIR. Let us not be naive. However, when they inevitably do so, their credibility will have been compromised, and since we only need a few of their votes anyway to finally pass CIR, we will certainly now have the upper hand.

In point of fact, the real reason why the numbers have trended in our favor, (for the purposes of enacting CIR), has much more to do with the economy then it has to do with enforcement. To be fair, enforcement is a minor contributing factor to the reversal of these migration numbers, and if the CIS and their ilk want to take credit for this trend, then I say, "perfect." I reference another article that I wrote last year, this one titled, "The Cruel and Intolerant Myth of Attrition," in which I state, "Finally, and putting all practical arguments aside, lets get right to the heart of the matter. What does the "attrition" scheme really mean? It means that if were successfully able to withhold any means of employment from the millions of undocumented workers here in the United States, they would be faced with few if any viable choices. If they were to stay here, they would starve themselves and their families, and would be left homeless due to their inability to pay rent. They would wander around looking for work for as long as they could hold out, and then, faced with no prospects for survival here in the U.S., would be forced to return, defeated, broke, angry, and with their tails between their legs back to their countries of origin, assuming that they could survive that difficult journey back, without any means to pay for it."

Interestingly, a new mantra that I've come across that is being used by Restrictionists is "Attrition Through Economic Slowdown." While it is dismaying that some people are so fixated against CIR that they are willing to see our economy go down in flames if it means less undocumented immigrants in our country, it does ultimately play into our favor, again, for the purposes of enacting CIR.

In my "Enforcement Only Approach" article from last year, I quoted the Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff's dire yet understated warning that "there will be some unhappy consequences for the economy out of doing this", (in reference to increased enforcement). Certainly, there is no evidence that would prove him wrong to date. The true danger to our economy will be if we don't exercise caution and discretion, and unwittingly allow the "enforcement only" crowd to convince the public that since minor enforcement has worked to decrease undocumented residents so well, then major or full enforcement would work even better! That would be an economic catastrophe.

Again, I reference what I wrote in last year's "Attrition Through Enforcement" article, "The facts are simple enough if one bothers to think them through. If we were to lose workers at the unprecedented level that Mr. Krikorian, (of the Center for Immigration Studies). and others of his ilk advocate, we would have massive work shortages in virtually every vital level of our economic system. Inflation would initially skyrocket, that is until the inevitable recession due to massive work interruption and loss of productivity causes our GNP to plummet.

Looking back, I can make a pretty sound case that I was correct. On the other hand, I must admit that I didn't expect that the housing bubble would burst so quickly and exponentially. That, and the subsidiary job loss in construction, along with the recent financial meltdown, has been the driving factor in the acceleration of the reversal in the migration numbers. However, let us not be at all secure in the fantasy that things cannot get any worse. They most certainly, and probably, will.

I would now make the urgent argument that the very last thing that we need for our staggering economy is for the accelerated loss of productivity, in the form of undocumented workers. We are in a full, "all hands on deck" emergency situation right now. When your house is on fire, you don't quibble about the legal status of the firemen that rush to your rescue.

It must be steadfast and diligent in our efforts to insure that while the attrition crowd can take all of the credit that they want to for the downtrend in undocumented immigration numbers, they can not be allowed to parlay that "theoretical" success into any increased enforcement. These people are dangerous, and they don't understand the full macro economic effect of their misguided principals. They are for less immigration, legal or otherwise, and are willing to bring us all down to satisfy their myopic agenda.

The fact is that I am not an attorney, I am a business person, and unabashedly an advocate for CIR. The current economic downturn is frankly bad for my business. However, I am also a pragmatist. I fully comprehend the irony of the fact that the seeming success of the "attrition through enforcement" scheme, could ultimately help us to achieve the CIR legislation that we truly need for our nation. I am more then happy to lose a small battle, in order to win a big war. I only hope that our newly or freshly elected leaders will see this matter for what it is. We've had just enough enforcement to make a point. Now more than ever it is time to use that leverage to achieve Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It will be humanitarianly just, politically feasible, and economically vital to our national best interest.


About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.


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