Image design by Vinicius Tavares for DWF.

This piece was originally published by Divided We Fall (Mixed). It was written by Todd Bensman, Senior National Security Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies, and Ryan Binkley, Republican Presidential Candidate and Co-Founder of Generational Group.

The Risk-Reward of Illegal Immigration

By Todd Bensman – Senior National Security Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies

Authoritarianism, poverty, hurricanes, failed states, and civil war are constant factors that never change over the decades – always making people want to leave their home countries for greener pastures. But only policy can explain the forward flows of humanity on a monthly and annual basis. America is experiencing such high, historically record-breaking levels of migration because, on Inauguration Day, the Biden administration carved out huge exceptions to Title 42. They reduced the pushbacks from Trump’s policies, eventually expiring the policy in May 2023. Now, the number of immigrants allowed to stay inside America is approaching an unfathomable amount.

The Risk-Reward that All Immigrants Make

An important dynamic to understand in all of this is that immigrants are rational and desperate. They make decisions to emigrate or stay home with a look at the risk-reward. Will the fortunes that they are forced to pay in smuggling fees result in a better life? They are far more willing to pull up stakes and go when they feel that those fortunes they must pay to smugglers will get them into the country, to stay long enough to repay the debt and make a living. Few will consider gambling the money when the odds are against them, as was the case during Trump’s final two years. 

But the odds changed on Biden’s Inauguration Day. The United States has experienced brief large flows of emigration in the past, quickly brought under control through responding policy and legislation that blocked, deterred, deported, and detained. This current mass migration is a result of a suite of Biden administration policies, that all had the effect of quickly granting the majority of comers immediate entry and quick resettlement anywhere in America. The scale of this migration has immediately gained status as a defined historical event of extreme magnitude. These entry-stay policies that replaced block, stop, and deter policies will be studied for decades as a national turning point.

What to Do

The short answer: vote for candidates in 2024 who are willing to implement policies that will lower the entry-stay odds for illegal immigration. Recent history clearly shows that in-flow can be halted as quickly as it began, in a matter of days. Much more is right with current immigration law than is “broken.” The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), for instance, unconditionally requires detention and deportation for illegal crossers, even detention throughout asylum adjudications and then removal to home countries when claims are declined. The main problem is the degree to which any given Executive Branch decides to enforce its provisions. The Biden administration announced ahead of taking office that it would enforce none of the law’s mandatory detention and deportation measures on grounds that these measures were cruel and inhumane, akin to Jim Crow laws of the pre-1960s, deserving to be ignored on morality grounds.

A quick return to enforcing existing INA requirements to detain and deport illegal entrants is a first start that will immediately end this historic mass migration event now in its fourth year.

Some other tweaks to the asylum law may be necessary, but wholesale reform is not a solution. Congress has already spoken on this, with the current iteration of the INA. Were those provisions to be enforced, immigrants would never gamble their lives and would be more likely to stay home instead.

America Needs Intentional Immigration

By Ryan Binkley – Republican Presidential Candidate and Co-Founder of Generational Group

Mr. Bensman’s assessment of the illegal immigration crisis at the southern border is like a doctor who, having discovered his patient’s broken arm, stops the examination and fails to discover the cancer that first weakened the bone. He correctly pointed out the disastrous consequences of President Biden’s lenient border entry policies but failed to address the source of the issue: America has no idea what we want from immigration. Until that question is solved, we will never free ourselves from this quagmire.

An Enduring Deluge

According to Mr. Bensman, illegal immigration has only really become a crisis since Biden’s inauguration in 2021. The numbers tell a different story. The Center for Immigration Studies estimates the number of illegal immigrants rose to 11.35 million in 2022, down significantly from the 11.48 million living in the nation in 2019 and considerably lower than the peak of 12.2 million in 2007. Mr. Bensman is primarily focused on border encounters, but again, history disagrees. While migrant encounters at the southern border have been higher than 200,000 per month since January 2021, this is not the first time we have seen these numbers. Monthly migrant encounters at the southern border exceeded 220,000 in early 2000 and stayed consistently above 100,000 until January 2008. In this century, the most prolonged period of monthly migrant border crossings at or below 50,000 was from 2009 through early 2019. This period covers almost the entire Obama Administration, which was not exactly known for valuing a secure border.

Mr. Bensman’s suggested prescription for our ailing border is simply first to elect leaders who will enforce existing laws and, second, only to pass border laws that will make it too costly for illegal immigrants to risk the journey. The volatile nature of contemporary American politics makes the first unlikely, and our economic need for healthy immigration makes the second unwise. Additionally, Mr. Bensman has no answer for the millions of illegal immigrants already in our communities.

A Route To Security, Prosperity, And Dignity

The crux of the issue is that America in general, and our policymakers in particular, have no idea what they want from our immigration system. Some want to keep everyone out. Some want to let everyone in. Some want to focus on merit and meeting the needs of a nation with cratering workforce participation rates. Some want to use immigration as a tool for social justice. There are advantages and dangers to each of these approaches. However, until we reach a national consensus about what we want from immigration, we will continue to have a schizophrenic system that changes drastically with each election, destabilizes our economy, and threatens our security.

America must come together and create a consensus framework for intentional immigration, like my Border Security and Dignity Plan, which upholds the rule of law, permanently secures the border, strengthens America’s workforce, and provides a realistic resolution for the illegal immigrants living in the shadows.


Intentional Illegal Immigration Has No Place in America

By Todd Bensman – Senior National Security Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies

In his retort, whether purposeful or not, Mr. Binkley runs headlong into the single most purveyed bit of disinformation about American immigration policy. It is the false contention that legal, authorized, wanted entry into the country by immigrants – whose names and histories are known – is one and the same as unlawful, uninvited, and unwanted entries over a guarded perimeter by complete strangers of unknowable repute. Discussing both types as though they were all just one amorphous thing called “immigration” deceptively papers over a Grand Canyon-wide distinction between them that requires separate outlook and redress.

Giving up on border security laws for short-term profit constitutes what I would call “intentional illegal immigration,” and it most certainly did start with Joe Biden’s inauguration as president in January 2021, contrary to Mr. Binkley’s contention otherwise. Any chart showing apprehensions over time starkly shows exactly when all this began. The Center for Immigration Studies report that Mr. Binkley cites in his rebuttal plainly states that sharp recent increases in illegal immigration “reflects policy changes by the Biden administration…”

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Mr. Binkley has too obviously cherry-picked an out-of-date Center for Immigration Studies report from 2022, which could only use data then available through that February, to obfuscate and minimize the truly historic nature of the border crisis. In totality, even the 2022 CIS report’s early view of the crisis still says something very different than what Mr. Binkley presented. From the pandemic lows of 10.22 million entries in 2020, the illegal immigrant population exploded by 1.13 million a mere one year later, a historically unmatched entry rate that pushed the total foreign-born population to “a new record high” of 46.7 million, that report said.

But CIS has very recently published a new report that illuminates just how severe this crisis went on to become through October 2023 and which Mr. Binkley did not cite. The total illegal immigrant population since Biden took office has now tripled to 4.5 million, a number far outside all American experience and larger than the populations of 25 U.S. states. This illegal immigration has pushed total foreign-born residents from the last record high of 46.7 million to the latest new record high of 49.5 million. None of even that stunning growth rate by illegal border crossing accounts for the ionospheric final months of 2023, with its 10,000 and 14,000 crossing days heading into the same 2024, at 85+ percent turnstile wave-in rates and no appreciable deportation under Biden’s “intentional illegal immigration” policy.

Perhaps most egregious, proponents and defenders of unimpeded mass illegal immigration seem determined to engage in an intentional obfuscating denialism that has undermined a very precious thing indeed: America’s legal immigration system.

Will America Choose Intentional Immigration Or Chaotic Lawlessness?

By Ryan Binkley – Republican Presidential Candidate and Co-Founder of Generational Group

In his opening essay, Mr. Bensman argued that the sole cause of America’s immigration is the Biden Administration’s lax border policies. In his rebuttal to my call for comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. Bensman appears to double down on this assessment. However, I see an opening for common ground even in his strident retort. So, the final question of this debate is: Will America be better served by stopgap fixes at the border or a new, bipartisan system for intentional immigration?

Mr. Bensman is absolutely correct that we must act to stop the current spike of illegal entries on our southern border. After all, the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. However, Mr. Bensman’s singular focus on the border misses another glaring truth: Shutting the barn door does nothing about the horses that have already bolted. If we sealed the border this instant, there would still be millions of illegal immigrants living here. They not only strain our social safety net, destabilize our economy, and endanger our families but are vulnerable targets for exploitation and trafficking. We cannot ignore this problem. If we focus only on the border, we will never craft a realistic, feasible, and just solution to help bring these people out of the shadows.

In his response, Mr. Bensman takes umbrage with conflating illegal and legal immigration. Yet, he admits that they are both entwined. Mr. Bensman states that our nation’s barriers against illegal immigration are meant to “preserve legal immigration systems.” However, he neglects to address how the failings of the legal immigration system feed back into the illegal immigration crisis. Our underfunded and bloated legal immigration system encourages people in desperate situations to break the law instead of waiting years or decades to resolve their status. 

I agree with Mr. Bensman that the key to a strong nation is the “sovereign right of their residents to choose who gets to join them.” The problem is no one is currently choosing. We need a consensus-derived, intentional immigration system, like my Border Security and Dignity Plan, that upholds the rule of law, permanently secures the border, strengthens America’s workforce, and provides a realistic resolution for illegal immigrants living in shadow.