March 21, 2011
Jessica M. Vaughan
Director of Policy Studies
Center for Immigration Studies
Written Testimony for the Maryland House of Delegates
Rules and Executive Nominations Committee
Regarding House Joint Resolution 10: Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws
Chair and members of the Rules Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on House Joint Resolution 10, regarding the significant public interest in the enforcement of immigration laws and the need for state action to discourage sanctuary policies that impede immigration law enforcement in Maryland.
For several years I have advised state and local lawmakers on immigration law enforcement issues and how to reduce illegal settlement. This resolution is a responsible and comprehensive approach and, based on what I have observed in jurisdictions that have implemented similar initiatives, the recommended actions will be effective without overreaching the state’s authority or leading to discrimination against immigrants. It is a balanced approach that focuses appropriately on criminal aliens, preventing illegal employment and preventing illegal aliens from accessing certain publicly funded services.
Our research has shown that this strategy, which we call “Attrition Through Enforcement,”1 is working. A new study released by the Public Policy Institute of California has found that similar measures enacted in Arizona have succeeded in reducing the adult illegal alien population in the state by 17 percent since 2008.2 The study also found that these results were achieved without adversely affecting legal immigrants.
Defenders of illegal immigration often suggest that illegal immigration is like a force of nature that cannot be stopped without implementing draconian policies such as mass deportation, or that illegal immigration will decline naturally in difficult economic times; therefore, states should take no further action. This argument is false – immigrants are human beings and in addition to reacting to conditions in their home countries (the “push factors”), they also respond to incentives and disincentives created by our government policies (the “pull factors”). Because the federal government lacks the resources to deal with the problem of illegal immigration on its own, and because the economic, fiscal, and public safety consequences of illegal immigration fall largely on the states, state leaders must do what they can to help gain control of this problem.
At least 20 other states have enacted measures to address illegal immigration. In addition, from 2006 to 2008, the federal government stepped up enforcement of immigration laws. The result was a noticeable decline in the size of the illegal population. We estimate that the illegal alien population declined by 11 percent from mid-2007 to mid-2008, primarily as a result of the increased level of enforcement generated by both the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and state and local initiatives.3
Illegal Immigration and Public Safety
According to new figures from ICE, there are approximately 2.1 million criminal aliens living in the United States. Each year about 900,000 aliens are criminally arrested. And each year about 700,000 aliens are released from correctional custody (jail, prison, or probation). ICE estimates that there are more than 1.2 million criminal aliens who are at large in our communities. It follows from these figures that there are more than 17,000 foreign nationals arrested each year in Maryland, more than 12,500 released from custody, and more than 21,000 who are now at large.
Needless to say, this large population of criminal aliens imposes enormous costs in communities in Maryland – for crime victims, for prosecution and justice, and for the degradation of quality of life that results.
For example, in a study I conducted several years ago on immigrant gangs, I found that some criminal gangs actually moved their operations to Maryland from Virginia because of the lenient, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies in place in jurisdictions like Montgomery County, compared to more assertive law enforcement efforts targeting illegal alien gang members in Virginia.4 In that study, I also noted the case of Milton Calderon-Menendez, who was released by Montgomery County police in 2007 on a pending assault charge, even though officers knew he was an illegal-alien member of the MS-13 gang. Calderon failed to appear for his hearing and soon after he stabbed a man in the chest while a friend beat the man with a baseball bat. Calderon was later arrested by officers in Prince William County, Va., who also notified ICE so that he can be removed after serving his sentence. This case illustrates the value of screening even lower-level offenders for immigration status, detaining them, and working with ICE to have them removed – it prevents future crimes, spares future victims, and saves on future criminal justice costs to boot.
In 2010 alone, ICE arrested 53 foreign gang members in Maryland who were involved with MS-13 or 18th Street, as part of a national enforcement program known as Operation Community Shield. Nearly all had prior criminal histories, and were charged with crimes such as murder, rape, assault with a deadly weapon, car-jacking, kidnapping, grand larceny, and drug offenses.
In addition, ICE has launched a program known as Secure Communities, which screens the fingerprints of every individual arrested against federal immigration databases, in addition to the standard FBI criminal history check.5 So far, only seven of 24 city and county jurisdictions in Maryland have joined Secure Communities (meanwhile, every jurisdiction in Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware is participating). Maryland lawmakers should consider imposing public safety funding restrictions or other sanctions on any jurisdiction that keeps itself a sanctuary by refusing to join this program.
Preventing Illegal Employment
It is widely recognized that employment is the most common incentive for illegal immigration to the United States. The most effective way to prevent employers from hiring illegal workers is to mandate use of the federal E-Verify and Social Security Number Verification Systems. These programs enable employers to electronically verify the status of new hires (E-Verify) or the entire payroll (SSNVS). Currently, 12 states require all or some employers to use these programs, and 12 more have such legislation pending (including Maryland).
E-Verify and SSNVS work. They help employers avoid hiring illegal workers and make it harder for illegal workers to dupe their employers with false documents. They are easy to use, accurate, and help reduce discrimination against immigrants. They enjoy broad public and bi-partisan support.6 The Obama administration has called E-Verify the “cornerstone” of its workplace enforcement efforts, and has requested funding from Congress in 2012 to continue improving it, such as by developing the capacity to better address identity fraud.
The biggest problem with these programs is that they are voluntary. Those employers that wish to continue hiring illegal aliens can excuse themselves from the process. This is a significant disadvantage for law-abiding employers who must compete with them, and for those U.S. and legal immigrant workers who are shut out of those jobs. Maryland lawmakers should consider requiring all employers, or some sub-set of employers, such as public agencies and contractors, or employers in industries that have large numbers of illegal workers, to use these programs.
Preventing Access to Social Services
According to our analysis of Census Bureau data, about 20 percent of illegal alien-headed households in Maryland are accessing welfare programs, primarily food assistance and Medicaid.7 It is highly likely that they are accessing many state assistance programs too. The federal government also offers state governments a program to enable public agencies to verify the status of those who apply for public benefits, known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE). Diligent use of this program by all state agencies would ensure that those who are ineligible for programs due to illegal status will not be able to access publicly funded services. This will preserve scarce funds for qualified applicants and also eliminate one more incentive for illegal immigrants to settle here.
Thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony, and I would be pleased to answer any questions or provide additional information upon request.
Jessica M. Vaughan
The Center for Immigration Studies (www.cis.org) is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute that studies the effects of immigration on American society. Jessica M. Vaughan is Director of Policy Studies, and an expert on immigration policy and law enforcement and state and local immigration initiatives. She is a native of Riderwood, Maryland and graduate of Towson High School and Washington College.
1 See Mark Krikorian, “Downsizing Illegal Immigration: A Strategy of Attrition Through Enforcement,” http://www.cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/articles/2005/back605.html, and Jessica M. Vaughan, “Attrition Through Enforcement: A Cost-Effective Strategy to Shrink the Illegal Population,” http://www.cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/articles/2006/back406.html.
4 Jessica M. Vaughan and Jon D. Feere, “Taking Back the Streets: ICE and Local Law Enforcement Target Immigrant Gangs,” Center for Immigration Studies, October, 2008, http://www.cis.org/ImmigrantGangs.
6 Jessica M. Vaughan, “E-Verify Results Demonstrate Accuracy and Efficiency,” http://www.cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/articles/2008/jmvtestimony051408.....
7 Steven A. Camarota, “Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America’s Foreign-born Population,” Center for Immigration Studies, November, 2007, http://www.cis.org/immigrants_profile_2007.