Rep. Stephen Sandstorm, R-Orem is planning to introduce an immigration reform bill, primarily patterned on the Arizona law, which will require state law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone detained or arrested for anther illegal act. The officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an illegal alien. In addition, law enforcement agencies will be fined $5000 a day if they do not follow through with the law. However the law has an escape clause. If US Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency (USICEA) does not want to deport the undocumented person, he or she “would be charged with Class A misdemeanor …with an order to appear and be set free.”This bill makes no economic sense or even legal sense. Economically it does nothing to reduce the incentives to illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants come here because, relative to their homeland, they have better employment opportunities and economic security for themselves and their children in the US. On the supply side of the labor market, illegal immigrants are willing to compete for work with the natives in the US labor market in term of wages, hours and nature of work. On the demand side, employers are willing to employ them because they get their services at lower wages with long hours and sometimes in an unpleasant work environment. Therefore the supply and demand side of the labor market works in illegal immigrants’ favor. Rep. Sandstorm’s bill does not address this root cause, and hence it may pacify some Utahns but it will not solve or even diminish the problem.
The bill also does not make legal sense. When you pass a law against unlawful activity the lawbreakers must face penalties for the crime. The legislation calls it Class A misdemeanor but with no penalties unless federal authorities are willing to deport the illegal immigrant. If states like Utah pass such laws, federal authorities will be swamped with such cases, and without federal appropriations to USICEA most of the cases will languish in the pipeline. That means that either most of them will be released or put in temporary holding facilities before deportation with expenses paid by taxpayers. Businesses will face labor shortages in some occupations. Hence Utah’s effort to curb illegal immigration without any federal legislation to deal with the root cause is bound to fail.
A recent study by Peter Dixon, Martin Johnson and Maureen T. Reimer in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, January 2011, examines various alternatives including enforcement to reduce illegal immigration. They conclude that the best policy would be to impose a tax and fines on employers of illegal immigrants and use the proceeds to improve the welfare of legal residents by tax cuts and public spending. Tighter security measures, deportations and prosecution of illegals’ increases wages of remaining illegals in the state and the country and increases costs without any benefits to the legal residents.