By James Jay Carafano and Derrick Morgan
After months of back-room wheeling and dealing, the Senate passed a “comprehensive” immigration bill that proponents say solves all the big problems so wisely that the House would be shortsighted not to do likewise.
But as House members from both parties chowed down back home on hot dogs during a weeklong Independence Day recess, they encountered some fireworks in voters’ doubts about this ballyhooed “fix” of the broken immigration system.
Here are four such questions, which policymakers should consider before proceeding:
Does the Senate-passed bill secure the border? No. It doesn’t require the flow of illegal immigrants to stop, even while throwing tens of billions of dollars at the problem and setting arbitrary security standards.
Many of the supposed requirements, such as border fencing and thousands of new Border Patrol agents, wouldn’t be implemented for years, if at all. As with current immigration laws, some provisions could be ignored or waived by the Department of Homeland Security.
The bill doesn’t prevent visitors from overstaying their visas. Fully 40 percent of today’s illegal immigrants did just that.
How will the U.S. government manage millions more visas? Not accurately and efficiently, since it can’t handle the current work load. The bill changes some types of visas, but new requirements and responsibilities would make matters worse without repairing the bureaucracy in charge of our legal immigration system.
IT’S NOT ALL BAD
The Senate-passed bill includes some useful steps. It does away with flawed visa programs such as the “diversity” lottery. It creates a merit-based program and adds work-based visas. The devil is in the details, though: The bill continues an emphasis on low-skilled immigration. And expensive new restrictions would make the H-1B visa program unworkable.
Is federal control of enforcement the way to go? The feds can’t do it all. State and local governments not only want to help; they’d make such good partners.
Fewer than 6,000 agents are deployed today by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Senate-passed bill doesn’t augment that force until far into the future. Moreover, putting all the authority in federal hands is a surefire way to hamstring enforcement.
A million local and state lawmen are ready to help enforce federal immigration laws. They know their communities best and they’re already in place. Sadly, the Senate’s “comprehensive” solution ignores them.
On balance, is the Senate-passed bill good for current citizens? The cost to taxpayers rose to $48 billion by the final vote. Sponsors loaded the bill with wasteful pork and kickbacks to secure votes, like $1.5 billion earmarked for a “jobs for youth” program.
Then there’s the harm to the nation’s long-term fiscal health. The estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants, on average, have much less education and lower skills than current citizens. They already receive significantly more in government benefits than they pay in taxes.
After amnesty they would qualify in 13 years for the full panoply of benefits — including welfare, Social Security and other entitlements. This would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars.
Such questions beg this one: Why would we make the same mistake twice?
America celebrates our heritage as an immigration nation where economic and cultural rewards to individual immigrants enrich the country as a whole. The challenge before the Senate was to arrive at appropriate, step-by-step ways to encourage legal immigration and prevent illegal immigration, not to push through sprawling, one-size-fits-all legislation.
IT’S ALL ABOUT AMNESTY
In 1986, when Congress last passed amnesty, the sponsors said it was a “one time” thing. The government gave out amnesty and legal permanent residency to at least 2.7 million people after President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. He later recognized it was a mistake.
That law didn’t stop illegal immigration. It encouraged more illegal immigration by sending the message that eventually, the government would hand out another amnesty.
Now the House — and the American people — are presented with a Senate bill that would have us go down the same road: amnesty first, promised security and enforcement later.
Some argue that the bill isn’t amnesty, but that’s double-talk. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was right in 2010 when he said “an earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.”
Yes, this “comprehensive” bill sets small penalties and a short wait for benefits. But it allows millions, including many who committed crimes, to remain here legally and eventually become citizens. It rewards those who broke the law, even as millions of others obey the law by waiting in line.
This is unfair. It’s amnesty. And that’s why House members are hearing about it.
James Jay Carafano is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.