Reforming our nation’s immigration laws is the key to progress and prosperity
Almost a quarter of a century has elapsed since the failed amnesty bill of 1986. We now have an historic opportunity to overhaul our federal immigration laws by building on our past experiences and recognizing our past failures. I strongly believe that immigration is an issue on which we can and must rise above petty ethnocentric concerns and pandering politics. No one can argue--from the right or the left--that we can strengthen America’s economy and democracy without controlling our borders and enforcing the law.
We are a nation of laws and that has been one of the secrets of our success. Yet, we are clearly losing ground on the immigration front as powerful special interest groups and their allies in Congress continue to push for yet another amnesty bill under the broader umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). But many now recognize that amnesty and CIR are virtually synonymous. Obama apparently has decided to usurp the authority of the Congress to set immigration policy by taking action to simply excuse illegal aliens en masse in an end run that will cost him in 2012.
We are losing ground to other countries because population growth here is largely among the uneducated, some of whom have not even mastered their native tongues. Forty-seven percent of high school students fail to graduate. What we need is a fully educated workforce to enable us to recapture the manufacturing jobs sent overseas. Allowing large numbers of the uneducated to enter our country illegally and remain here and work is counterproductive to that goal. Moreover, it places extra demands on the schools for bi-lingual education and other special programs. This involves the use of resources that could better be employed in improving the graduation rate and preparing students to be productive members of society.
Our national security is threatened by the weakness of our border and port security efforts and by the sheer volume of daily pedestrian and vehicular traffic at the ports of entry. Any observer of that traffic would soon realize that the Border Patrol is faced with an impossible task. If we are to meet everyone’s goal of secure borders, we must act now with a sense of urgency.
We knew early on that the amnesty bill of 1986 had many shortcomings because the promises in the bill to secure the border were never kept. The 1.3 million illegal aliens granted amnesty in 1986 has now grown to 12 million, a compound rate of increase of 9.7% per year. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where another amnesty will lead. If the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill had been passed in 2006, we would be debating anew today whether to provide amnesty for the 4 million to 5 million illegal aliens who have entered since. And if an amnesty were enacted tomorrow, five years from now, Congress would be debating what to do with the additional 5 million who would have entered by that time. What's more, the tens of millions of newly amnestied citizens legally would be able to bring in their next of kin through chain migration, swelling the overall number to potentially more than 50 million within a decade of the amnesty.
Although our nation cannot wait any longer, I am not optimistic about real reform because President Obama and DHS Secretary Napolitano are pushing a different agenda. While they support some additional resources, some of them temporary in the form of National Guard troops, they have yet to come to terms with the simple fact that some of what we’ve been doing is not working and more of the same is not likely to help. Business as usual is simply unacceptable. They have yet to accept that internal enforcement is an essential element of in depth border security. The lack of real interventions and adequate investment doesn’t just apply at the border and doesn’t just apply to hardened criminals. If we focus on the larger problem, we will be able to sweep up the hardened criminals along with all of the other illegals.
The East Germans found to their dismay that people would brave machine gun towers, mine fields, and multi-layered fences and walls to escape to the West, Why? Because they knew if they were successful, they would never be repatriated.
Similarly, illegal aliens know if they can escape the immediate environs of the border, they will be home free. Under the Administration’s policies, the probability of being apprehended and repatriated is extremely low. What the Administration refuses to admit is that to secure the borders requires more than just staffing and infrastructure improvements at the border itself; it requires vigorous and continuous internal enforcement coupled with the expeditious repatriation of all of those who are apprehended. That is the missing ingredient of border security in depth. Under current policies the borders can never be completely secure.
Despite the persistent and alarming failures of our current border security measures, an understanding of the East German experience can show us the way. A six month term working on border infrastructure followed by immediate repatriation is the sine qua non of border security. Our failure to expedite repatriation is the primary cause of many of our border problems. If an illegal alien pays a coyote to help him negotiate the border but is promptly apprehended and repatriated, he will soon realize that that this is a losing proposition.
We need a bipartisan open and transparent effort to strengthen our immigration laws. CIR is not the answer. Instead of a thousand page bill written by lobbyists and special interest groups containing all manner of mischief and loopholes, we need a series of shorter simpler bills that everyone can read and understand well before any votes are taken. We may have one last chance to deal with the difficult immigration issues and critical challenges facing us before the die will be cast and the political climate will change. We need to take head-on the barriers to solving the illegal alien problem. Building on what works and fixing that which doesn’t, we can develop an immigration system tuned more precisely to the exact needs of our economy and nothing else.
We will need better data systems beginning with a visa-overstay tracking system and the mandatory implementation of the E-verification of work status across the board for all employers, public and private, and all employees, both current employees and potential new hires. The loophole in the present law that permits an employer to get off the hook by claiming he didn’t “knowingly” hire any illegal aliens must be closed. An employer must be held accountable for the work or immigration status of all of his employees. The E-verification system permits him to do so while the applicant is busy filling out employment forms. Wireless communication systems installed in police cruisers should permit local authorities to instantly check the bona fides of anyone stopped for other violations using the E-verification system which could be expanded to include the names and numbers on drivers’ licenses, green cards, and other such documents.
It has been said that the president is looking for the “elusive middle ground” on immigration reform. If we think in terms of a football field, one goal line represents mass legalization or amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens and the other the mass deportation of all illegal aliens. The middle ground lies somewhere near the 50 yard line. The proponents of amnesty or CIR have not moved an inch away from their goal line. They have added certain conditions, largely unenforceable, which illegal aliens would have to meet to be eligible for a pathway to citizenship. They believe these conditions represent compromise but they have not moved an inch away from full amnesty for all illegals who choose to meet those conditions. To reach the 50 yard line the amnesty proponents would have to agree to the removal of a large number of illegal aliens. The opponents would have to accept that a large number would be allowed to stay and work.
Raising the bar means expecting more from both camps. It means providing strong incentives for those who wish to stay to become socially integrated and culturally and linguistically assimilated. They must also be in jobs citizens won’t take if they are offered a living wage. Other illegals must be repatriated systematically and humanely over some period of time with the objective of creating a significant disincentive for future border violations. This is the only way in which such a disincentive can be established. Without the threat and the actuality of repatriation for a large number of illegals, there will be no disincentive.
We know beefing up border infrastructure and staffing by itself has failed to stem the tide of illegal entries. While necessary, these improvements at the border will continue to be insufficient without vigorous internal enforcement. We need to scale up both efforts.
The operators of detention facilities have been paid on the basis of detainee days. That needs to be changed so that they are rewarded on the basis of throughput numbers. The government needs to make sure there are enough immigration judges or justices of the peace (JOPs) embedded in the detention facilities so that the initial immigration decision can be made within 24 hours of the detainee’s arrival. Appeals should be limited to only one week. There should be a rigid set of criteria for immigration decisions and appeals so that most of the workload can be handled by JOPs with judges required only for the most difficult cases such as those involving requests for political asylum. Other cases should be straightforward; the individual is either in the U.S. legally or he or she is not. Visa overstays fall into the latter category the day that their visas expire, regardless of any pending requests for extensions that may have been made. Maintaining family unity can never be considered as an adequate basis for a successful appeal. Minor children, regardless of citizenship, must accompany parents under a removal order. The parents are not permitted to abandon their children in the U.S. That would be child abuse.
The winning formula for immigration reform with regard to those aliens who are already here is a process by which it can be determined whether they are holding jobs citizens would take if offered a living wage. Employers must make a good faith effort to re-advertise all jobs currently held by illegals, offering a union-certified living wage and a hiring preference for citizen workers. This process must be handled through the local employment offices to avoid any gaming of the system by unscrupulous employers. Temporary migrant farm workers may be granted an exception to this general process. Illegals who survive this process may then be offered a green card which specifies the type of work they are authorized to do. Most green cards should specify agricultural work only.
Other immigration reforms that should be considered in short, separate, single-subject bills are as follows: (1) require English to be used for all government publications, documents, ballots, and proceedings at all levels of government (EO 13166 should be repealed.) Public Interpreters should be provided for those who cannot afford one or who do not have a family member who can serve in that capacity; (2) require true fluency in English before citizenship can be awarded; (3) designate English as the official language of the United States; (4) birthright citizenship limited to the children of citizen mothers; (5) chain immigrations limited to the spouses and minor children of citizens and counted against the overall immigration quota; (6) reduce the overall quota for legal immigrants to no more than 200,000 per year (exclusive of tourists, students, and temporary migrant farm workers) or whatever number is necessary to achieve a stable population; (7) establish a national goal of a stable population to be achieved through tax and immigration policies; (8) institute cap-and-trade for family size; women who wish to have more than two children must buy credits from those who wish to have fewer; (9) focus legal immigration quotas on those who have the education, entrepreneurial spirit, a record of inventiveness and innovation, and ideas most likely to help the U.S. maintain its competitiveness in the global economy; (10) provide fast track citizenship for foreign students who successfully complete a PhD degree in the physical sciences, engineering, math, or medicine and those who enlist in the armed forces for not less than 4 years and who have served at least one tour in a combat zone; (11) tie immigration quotas to the unemployment rate by sector. If the unemployment rate is above the benchmark, suspend legal immigration and expedite repatriation in that sector; (12) reduce cross border vehicular and pedestrian traffic; if you work here and you are a citizen, you must live here -- no cross border commuters; (13) unhitch foreign trailers at the border and re-hitch them to American tractors; (14) eliminate most favored nation designation for any country that does not enforce its borders in both directions; (15) recognize the right of states to enact implementing immigration laws within the scope of federal statutes; (16) devise an ID system that would enable local authorities to easily separate illegal aliens from Hispanic citizens to avoid accusations of racial profiling; (17) change the rules of engagement so that anyone apprehended at the border or internally receives a six month sentence working on border infrastructure; (18) make it clear that no amnesty or other actions will be taken until a confidential survey of all border patrol and ICE agents, administered by an outside agency, indicates conclusively that the borders are secure; and (19) issue generic birth certificates indicating the place of birth as the homeland of the mother.