The Illegal Alien Problem: Enforcing the Immigration Laws

The Illegal Alien Problem: Enforcing the Immigration Laws; United States IMMIGRATION MENU
The Illegal Alien Problem: Enforcing the Immigration Laws
By George Weissinger, Ph. D.

Published on November 7, 2003.


This article supports a theory that explains the illegal alien problem as part of the general environment in which it is found. It argues that the illegal alien problem is a diverse one and not simply a Mexico-US problem, and suggests that traditional immigration law enforcement strategies encourage an ever-increasing illegal alien population in the United States. Reasons why such a policy of enforcement exists are also discussed.

The Illegal Alien Problem

Characterizations of the illegal alien range from the sympathetic to the xenophobic. Such characterizations contribute to the confusion about the illegal alien problem. The media usually portrays the plight of the illegal alien in the United States using the historical view of a nation of immigrants. Often, the media resists portraying the illegal alien as anything but the hard working border-crosser that simply wants to feed his family. However, the traditional image of aliens may have changed as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The media influences our perceptions about the illegal alien in the United States. For example, portrayals of crowds of alien day laborers serve as a general definition of the illegal alien problem. (Chen, 1999) Such portrayals focus more on aesthetics than economic, health, or criminal justice issues. Residents are concerned about the way such crowds might bring down property values, or interfere with commerce. Even in this area, there is little consensus. Advocates and anti-illegal groups converge to create a distorted perception of the problem. Thousands of illegal aliens are gathering on a daily basis in known locations throughout the United States in order to be picked up by potential employers for a day’s work. Although the INS has statutory authority under Title 8 USC Sec. 1357, and designated officers or employees of the Service have the power without warrant to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien as to their right to be or to remain in the United States, the INS simply ignores this obvious opportunity to remove illegal aliens from the United States. The official policy of the INS, now Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), is to target employers of illegal aliens in an attempt to remove the reason why illegal aliens come to the United States. This policy evolved out of the employer sanctions included in the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. With 8 million illegal aliens in the United States and 1,062,279 apprehensions in 2002 this policy does not seem to be working. Another important issue is the implied powerless of the illegal alien. The growing Hispanic population and the increasing number of illegal aliens with legal ties has a direct relationship to this perception. In addition, other participants in the general environment, such as politicians and religious groups, have a vested interest in not enforcing interior immigration laws. Such groups stand to receive benefits from a larger alien population–one for votes, the other for potential converts. The implied powerlessness may be a strategic attempt to soften the impact of an amnesty program. Skerry compares the two perspectives of the illegal living in the shadows contrasted by those that are more vocal about their plight. In his opinion, the latter is a more accurate characterization. (Skerry, 2001) More recently, advocates compared the plight of illegal aliens to the civil rights movement and organized an immigrant worker’s freedom ride to rally support. Found at

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