Tag Archives: immigration

Deterrence Doesn’t Work: Immigration Reform Idiocy

I was in my car, driving to work, and I heard a discussion on the radio between a number of “experts” (credentials unknown as I tuned in mid-broadcast) discussing immigration law reform.  I could tell that they were probably politicians or politically motivated business people not particularly informed experts or researchers because they only answered questions by turning things back to their talking points, even if they didn’t match the actual questions at all.

On of the voices made this (paraphrased) suggestion: “We need to make the punishments for employers who employ illegal immigrants so severe that no one will take the risk and employ illegals.  This will remove the incentive for people to immigrate, because they are coming here for jobs.”  Based on this, I suspect he may consult for the private prison industry.

Anyone who could make this argument with a straight face either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, is deluded, or is actively providing misinformation.

Deterrence doesn’t work as a general principle.

It is amazing to me that American criminal justice policy can be as riddled with evidence for the failure of deterrence to work as it is, and for there still to be an apparent public perception that increasing penalties will actually deter anyone from committing crime.  Because it worked so great with crack (deterrence probably had little to do with police enforcement and more to do with people seeing the destructive results of the crack trade on their friends and parents’ lives) and with drug crime in general (The War on Drugs costs nearly as much as a real war, and is just as pointless), murder (the death penalty doesn’t deter, so what possibly could?), and political dissidence (even in colonial America, there is evidence that dissidents PREFERRED to be punished).

Except in a few very specific cases and contexts, deterrence just doesn’t work.  Police are spread too thin (or CIS in this case) to actually catch enough people to make general deterrence work.  And in the case of specific deterrence, there definitely isn’t enough oversight to actually catch people every time they break the law.  This means that the very first step of deterrence, certainty of being caught, doesn’t exist, and can’t, even in a police state or occupied nation.

This is particularly the case when you’re considering things like illegal drug markets or employing illegal immigrants.  Both parties (the immigrants and the employers) stand to gain from maintaining secrecy.  Hell, people in SD do jobs off the tax books all the time for cash, because they don’t want to pay the federal income taxes (SD doesn’t have a state income tax, which is why they can’t pay for adequate public education).  The employers like this, and so do the workers.  Unless CIS is going to start dropping in on every small employer in the U.S., doing a bunch of stings or otherwise engaging in a massive undertaking, there is no one who will be reporting the presence of these immigrants.  Increasing penalties will not help this problem, it will make it worse by increasing the motivation that both employers and workers have to maintain secrecy.

But, unfortunately the discourse surrounding immigration has taken the same tone as that surrounding crime in the U.S.: “Things are bad, getting worse.  We have to get tougher and punish the evildoers, so that the good, innocent, real Americans can be safe and prosper.”  It’s exactly the same kind of rhetoric employed to justify prison expansion during the 1990’s and 2000’s, and could be just as destructive.


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