Attrition—Alternative To "Mass Deportation?"

Every time an open borders politician or publicist promotes amnesty, they say that some sort of legalization is the only alternative to unthinkable "mass deportation".


  • Labor Secretary Carlos Gutierrez recently told CNN, "I have the impression that perhaps for some people, the only thing that would not be amnesty is mass deportation."


  • The New York Times editorial board has claimed that the only alternative to "comprehensive immigration reform" is "engaging in a campaign of mass deportation". [It Isn't Amnesty, March 29, 2006]

I could go on and on.

Why do the pro-amnesty forces so consistently claim their opponents are advocating mass deportation? Probably because it is the only enforcement mechanism that Americans do not overwhelmingly support. Whether pollsters ask if you favor decreasing legal immigration, increasing employer sanctions, building a fence on the border, or if you think illegal immigration helps the economy, half to three quarters of Americans generally agree. But polls that give the option only of amnesty versus mass deportation generally show that only 20-35% of the population will choose deportation.

Immigration reform patriots quite correctly call this a straw man. When the Center for American Progress estimated the costs of mass deportation at somewhere between $206 and $230 billion dollars over 5 years, [PDF]Tom Tancredo's then press secretary Will Adams told the Washington Post that it was an "interesting intellectual exercise" but "useless . . . because no one's talking about" mass deportation. [$41 Billion Cost Projected To Remove Illegal Entrants By Darryl Fears, July 26, 2005]

Indeed, very few public figures have ever called for mass deportation. Certainly none of the restrictionist bills in Congress have done so. In fact, the only person who both the Post and CAP cited as calling for mass deportations was…Newt Gingrich! [Gingrich urges action against illegals By Ralph Z. Hallow, Washington Times, February 21, 2005]

And even that was wrong, of course. In the speech in question, Gingrich simply called for eliminating EOIR review before deportations—not for any sort of mass round ups. (This, of course, is a policy that VDARE.COM's Juan Mann has long advocated.)

Recently, a number of patriotic immigration reformers have begun to point out that there is a third way between "amnesty" and "mass deportation". Mark Krikorian at the Center for Immigration Studies has called it "attrition". Krikorian made this point in a number of op-eds and papers, and a more detailed analysis was made for CIS by Jessica Vaughn. [Attrition Through Enforcement, April 2006] The general idea is that is that there are many other ways to make illegal aliens go home other than deportation. If we systematically make it more difficult for them to live here, then they will go home. Few VDARE.COM readers would disagree.

Perhaps the key component of the attrition strategy: getting serious about employer verification of workers. If the jobs are not available, then the illegals have no reason to stay.

The other components are all common sense enforcement strategies—such as encouraging states and localities to enforce immigration laws; cracking down on fraudulent social security numbers; reducing benefits for illegals; being more vigilant about visa overstays.

More imaginative possibilities include: taxing remittances; reforming the anchor baby provision of the Fourteenth Amendment; reversing Plyler vs. Doe, the Supreme Court decision forcing public schools to educate illegal alien children

CIS' Vaughn estimates that if this were enacted that it would reduce the illegal population in this country by 1.5 million people a year at a cost of 400 million dollars—less than one percent of the CAP estimate cost for mass deportations. VDARE.COM's Ed Rubenstein has estimated that mass deportation, by reducing costs to American workers and taxpayers, would pay for itself in four years.

In the last year, the attrition strategy has pretty much become the standard opinion in the patriotic immigration reform movement. It was endorsed in the "CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP DECLARATION OPPOSING AMNESTY/ "GUEST WORKER" PROPOSALS" that most of the prominent immigration restrictionist groups signed onto last year, [PDF]along with a number of notable conservatives such as Phyllis Schlafly, David Horowitz, and Richard Viguerie. Pat Buchanan endorsed it in his blockbuster book, State of Emergency. Probably most importantly, the attrition strategy was reflected in the HR 4437 which was passed by the House of Representatives in December 2005.

The Center for Immigration Studies commissioned a poll from Zogby that gave not just the usual mass deportation vs. amnesty option, but also attrition. Zogby avoided terms like "amnesty" or "illegal aliens" to make the result as neutral as possible, and described the House attrition Bill compared to the Senate "Path to Citizenship" bill. This showed that 56% of the population supported the "attrition" solution, compared to only half that supporting the Senate Amnesty/Immigration Surge bill. (Significantly, 12% of those polled still supported mass deportation.) [New Poll: Americans Prefer House Approach on Immigration, May 3, 2006]

Attrition is unquestionably sound policy. But I have a few bones to pick. The change in rhetoric could have some negative ramifications. It cedes ground to the Treason Lobby by having immigration reformers apparently concede that there are problems with mass deportation.

Moreover, it's worth noting that the 20-35 percent public approval that "mass deportation" enjoys is higher than public support for the President's Iraq policy. I can't think of another issue where 20-35% of the population supports a policy that nary a pundit, politician, or talking head advocates.

And mass deportation would actually be easier than it sounds. Operation Wetback, by which Eisenhower ended the last, very similar, illegal immigration crisis, got nearly 2 million illegals out of the country—but only a small fraction were literally deported. Most left, once the program was seen to be serious, because they feared arrest.

In other words, "mass deportation" is the ultimate attrition strategy.

The proper goal of policy is to remove the illegal aliens from the country and make sure that no more come in. Attrition may very well help perform that purpose. But mass deportation should not be neglected.

If Bill O'Reilly, the New York Times, George Bush, and Ted Kennedy do not see any difference between mass deportation and simple enforcement, maybe we shouldn't either.

Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.