Immigration: Trouble at ICE

A few days before President Obama and Mexico's Felipe Caldron enjoyed their recent Mexico City love-in, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took another step down the road toward "comprehensive immigration reform," which means conditional amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.

Napolitano directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to back off on the kinds of workplace raids that nabbed some 50 "undocumented" workers in Northern Nevada McDonald's franchises about a year ago. Many of those workers were deported, much to the chagrin of illegal immigration advocates.

For my part, I think we need a two-pronged approach that targets both the illegal immigrants and the unscrupulous businessmen who knowingly hire and exploit them, and pay them less than the minimum wage with no benefits. But the idea that we can enforce our immigration laws without workplace raids is absurd.

Napolitano acted following a Feb. 24 sweep of a Bellingham, Wash., engine parts manufacturing firm that resulted in 28 arrests and several deportations. She complained that ICE failed to notify her of the raid in advance and announced an investigation into that agency's "communication practices." In other words, she publicly berated her own agents for enforcing our nation's immigration laws.

I'm convinced that ICE should continue to target illegals for many reasons, including their enormous cost to the taxpayers. A 2005 study by Minnesota's Office of Strategic Planning estimated that some 82,500 illegal immigrants were costing that state nearly $170 million per year " $138 million in public education, $17 million in health and public assistance and $13 million in law enforcement and incarceration expenses. Therefore, Minnesota spent approximately $2,000 on each illegal immigrant in 2005, a figure that doesn't include the federal, state and local taxes they don't pay.

Now, let's extrapolate those numbers to Nevada. In 2007 Homeland Security estimated that some 250,000 illegals were living here, about 8 percent of our total population. At $2,000 apiece, the cost of illegal immigration to Nevada taxpayers was about $500 million two years ago. That's a lot of money at a time when our state faces a huge budget deficit.

"Minnesota's illegal immigrant population is on the rise and so are the financial and social challenges associated with this increase," the 2005 study concluded. Just multiply the Minnesota numbers by three and you'll have an idea of the magnitude of the illegal immigration problem we face here in Nevada.

And yet Gov. Gibbons and our Legislature have decided to sweep this costly issue under the political rug. Go figure!

- Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.

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