Attrition Through Enforcement: A Workable Plan

By Jon Feere and Jon Feere on February 6, 2012

Mass legalization and mass deportation are two unworkable, unrealistic means of addressing the nation's illegal immigration problem. Mass legalization — aka amnesty — was tried in 1986 and it resulted in more illegal immigration, significant fraud, and facilitated the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, just to name a few problems. Furthermore, the federal government simply does not have the capacity to adequately adjudicate 11 million amnesty applications: USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas recently testified that an amnesty would create "the mother of all backlogs" that "clearly" the nation's immigration "systems could not handle." It is not surprising that two-thirds of Americans oppose amnesty. Similarly, mass deportation doesn't have any support, nor is any serious organization calling for it.

People respond to messaging, and for many years the message out of Washington has been a promise of amnesty. Talk about amnesty encourages illegal aliens to remain in the United States in the hope that the Congress will eventually pass unpopular legislation against the will of the American public. Such promises also encourage more people to enter the country illegally.

A different message is necessary if ending illegal immigration is the goal – namely, one that encourages illegal aliens to return home and cements legal entry as the only means of obtaining legal status in the United States.

This messaging is key to the "attrition through enforcement" approach and many states have adopted it as the only viable means to eliminate illegal immigration. Over time, the attrition plan will reduce the number of new illegal arrivals and persuade a large share of illegal aliens already here to deport themselves, the goal being a steady decline in the total illegal population, rather than constant annual increases. Shrinking the illegal population through consistent, across-the-board enforcement of the immigration law is the only rational and workable way to get our immigration system back on track.

Two CIS reports serve as a primer for those wishing to better understand how the policy operates: "Attrition Through Enforcement: A Cost-Effective Strategy to Shrink the Illegal Population" and "Downsizing Illegal Immigration: A Strategy of Attrition Through Enforcement".

The Center for Immigration Studies provides additional research on the attrition policy here.