Reforming in the public's interest
During a recent summit meeting with North American leaders in Mexico, President Barack Obama said he expects legislative action on immigration reform in 2010.
As with so many difficult policy issues, "reform" is in the eye of the beholder.
For President Obama and many congressional leaders, immigration reform means amnesty, or legalization, for the estimated 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States and provisions to reunite them with millions more family members who live outside the United States. The president's immigration reform package would also include promises of better enforcement of immigration laws in the future.
In other words, the president's proposal is no more than a repeat of the failed 1986 immigration reform effort on a much larger and more expensive scale. In 1986, some three million illegal aliens were granted amnesty (many fraudulently), while promises of better enforcement went largely unfulfilled. Given the Obama administration's track record on immigration enforcement, there is little reason to believe that the results would be any different this time.
Aside from the fact that amnesty for illegal aliens is unjustified, it would place the interests of the people who broke our laws ahead of those of law-abiding Americans and immigrants. Instead, reform must begin from the premise that immigration policy should serve the economic, social and environmental interests of the American people.
The United States can effectively reduce illegal immigration, and protect the interests of American workers and taxpayers, without granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Remedying a problem that has developed over more than two decades will not occur overnight, but through enforcement and strengthening of existing policies, we can reverse the flow of illegal migration.
Eliminate the magnets for illegal immigration.
Everyone agrees that jobs are the powerful magnet that draws illegal aliens to the United States. The availability of jobs (even when the economy recovers) can dramatically reduce by requiring that all employers use existing government databases to verify workers are legally eligible for employment. The E-Verify system, which is now used by 135,000 companies with a 99.6 percent accuracy rate, allows employers to verify the Social Security numbers workers present. Like any other type of law enforcement, the government would need to aggressively pursue and penalize employers who do not comply with laws against hiring illegal aliens.
Effective border security.
As the magnet of jobs is diminished, fewer people are likely to attempt to cross our borders illegally. The U.S. Border Patrol would then be able to deploy its manpower and technological resources more effectively to stop people who are truly dangerous from entering our country. The increasing violence spilling across our southern border makes it imperative that we end the chaos that criminal organizations operating along the border now exploit.
State and local participation in immigration enforcement.
State and local governments must become partners in the effort to deter illegal immigration. Eliminating access by illegal aliens to non-essential, non-emergency public services and benefits discourages illegal from settling in those jurisdictions, and relieves local residents of the burdens associated with illegal immigration. Local governments can also cooperate with federal immigration authorities by having police trained to identify and detain people who are in the country illegally. In places like Arizona, where such policies have been implemented, the illegal population has declined by as much as one-third.
Detention and removal.
With an illegal alien population of at least 11 million, we will never be able to deport everyone who is here illegally. However, the threat of deportation provides yet another deterrent to remaining in the U.S. illegally. Adequate resources must be committed to detaining illegal aliens who are apprehended and providing them with a timely hearing before an immigration judge. People found to have no valid claim to remain in the United States must be lawfully removed.
For too long, the government's failure to effectively enforce our immigration laws has cost law-abiding Americans jobs, wages, tax dollars, educational opportunities and access to needed services and benefits. Immigration reform, if it is taken up in 2010, must finally address their interests, not the interests of those who have broken our laws.
There is no "quick fix" to a problem that has been decades in the making. But through a clear and consistent strategy of deterrence and enforcement, our immigration policies can, once again, fulfill their mission of protecting the interests of the American people.
Dan Stein is president of the Federation of American Immigration reform, which seeks to stop illegal immigration and reduce immigration overall.