Immigration 101 tracks my Immigration Law class at Hofstra.

Most immigrants who wind up being deported are either caught at the border, or transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they are arrested for a crime. But what gets the headlines are the raids.

In 2007, a week-long series of raids on Long Island made national headlines. The behavior of ICE agents was so outrageous that Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi filed a protest with the Department of Homeland Security. The Long Island raids and similar actions around the country led to Congressional investigations into ICE and multiple lawsuits. The impact of the raids on children caught up in the capture of their parents has caused widespread revulsion.

Raids really are not a very good way to halt illegal immigration, if that is your goal. The raids on Long Island drew on dozens of ICE officers, involved transporting them from as far away as Texas and housing them at government expense in New York, and keeping them away from other work for more than a week. All to nab fewer than 200 immigrants.

The same group of officers could have been deployed along the border and captured many times that number.

So why is ICE’s scarce resources being used in these spectacularly headline grabbing raids?

Well, precisely because the raids are headline grabbing.

The Department of Homeland Security was set up after the 9-11 terror attacks to grab headlines. The creation of the new agency did little to enhance security. Its most well-publicized intitiative before the raids was Tom Ridge’s eminently stupid system of color-coded terror warnings. Similarly, the raids are not carried out to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants, but rather to appease a public demanding that “something must be done”.

Think about it. Between 80,000 and 100,000 undocumented immigrants live on Long Island. The big raids captured less than 200 people, leaving between 79,800 and 99,800 “illegal immigrants” living here. But the newspapers were full of the story and Steve Levy hailed the raids as the dawning of a new era.

It wasn’t.

So, when you hear of big, headline grabbing raids, rest assured that while the diversion of resources may have allowed many more undocumented to enter the United States, the publicity around the sweep allows your neighbors to sleep the sleep of those who know that the homeland is secure.

Read other parts of this series:

Immigration 101 is a comprehensive series on American immigration law for the layperson. This series tracks my course on immigration law at Hofstra Law School and answers many of your questions about immigration policy.

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