Any resolution should extend mercy and compassion to the migrant – legal and illegal – consistent with the history of a generous nation, but in a manner that does not jeopardize national security or subject citizens to undue economic and social burdens.
The 2013 U.S. Senate “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744” was an initial step toward resolution; however, like most such expansive proposals, S.744 is highly flawed.
S.744 focuses on transitioning 12 million illegal aliens to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status with a path to citizenship, reforming the legal immigration system to expand the number of LPR visas issued annually from about one million to two million, allowing the five million people on existing waiting lists to obtain LPR visas, legal protections and legal services for illegal aliens, and the expansion of guest worker and agricultural worker authorizations to nearly 2 million annually.
Polling in the last year clearly indicates the American public wants the flow of illegal aliens stopped, but this seems an afterthought in the Senate bill. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates 64% of those polled support a major expansion of border control resources, including 700 miles of fencing. The Hoeven-Corker Border Security Amendment to S.744 was a step in the right direction, but as a major amendment it showed that stopping illegal immigration was not a focus of the original bill.
Polling also indicates the American people want those illegal aliens currently in the country to remain as permanent residents, with a majority preferring a path to citizenship. The Republican base must stop its cries of no amnesty and instead focus on forcing the House of Representatives to draft an alternative to S.744 that represents the interests of American citizens.
For example, S.744 allows transition of an individual with as many as three non-immigration related misdemeanor convictions to remain in the U.S.. Most American citizens would reject that proposal. The House of Representatives could champion common sense solutions that the American public clearly desires.
The Senate’s proposed dramatic expansion of legal immigration and guest worker programs, in addition to the conversion of 12 million illegal aliens to legal status is completely contrary to the views of the American people. The bill’s negative impact on opportunities for citizen workers and potential to suppress wages is a major concern.
A recent Gallup poll indicates only 22% of Americans want immigration increased. According to the poll, 33% want immigration levels maintained at their current level and 41% want a reduction. In the same poll, 63% express a positive view of immigration. These two views are not in conflict.
The American public sees legal immigration as a positive aspect of the country’s economic development and culture, and an expression of compassion for the migrant. However, they want immigration to be controlled and held to a level that balances the need for assimilating the immigrants into the nation without undue burden to American workers, the taxpayer, and schools.
Immigration reform will be momentous. It should not be rushed, but neither should it be shelved. The next step is a House alternative to the Senate proposal that should incorporate much of the Senate proposal, but address its short comings. The alternative can then serve as the basis for a bi-partisan solution in 2015.
Amplifying Information about Illegal and Legal Immigration Follows for Readers Interested in Being Further Informed on this Issue
The Southern Border: Obstruct and Deter – NOT - Detect and Apprehend
The first step in immigration reform is to build a barrier of double and triple layer pedestrian fencing that will reduce dramatically the flow of illegal aliens across the southern border.
The U.S. recruited 5 million Mexican agricultural workers during World War II following decades of increasing efforts to slow the flow of Mexican migrant workers across the border. In 1964 the U.S. unilaterally cancelled the “braceros” program against the wishes of the Mexican government. The flow of migrants never stopped, thus beginning the illegal alien problem from across the southern border. By 1992 there were an estimated 3.4 million illegal aliens residing in the U.S..
Presently, between eleven and twenty million residents of the U.S. entered the country illegally. Illegal southern border crossings were their primary method of entry.
The flow of migrants from Mexico and Central America across the southern border of the U.S. has fluctuated between 1.6 million and 327,000 since 2001. The fluctuation reflects post 9/11 security improvements, the 2008 economic downturn, and more recently the unintended consequences of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) executive action to allow young people who entered illegally to remain in the U.S.. Southern border apprehensions are likely to exceed 500,000 this year.
The federal government must gain control of all forms of entry and exit through its borders. The southern border, as the primary point of entry for illegal aliens, must be secured by all means necessary and the foreign policy of the U.S. toward Mexico and Central America must prioritize this interest.
The southern border goal should be to prevent illegal border crossings before they occur, not to apprehend those who illegally cross the border. If 1.6 million people attempt to cross the border and 10% are not apprehended the result is that nearly the population of Tempe, AZ, or Sioux Falls, SD or Eugene, OR or Springfield, MA or Cape Coral, FL slips through – every year. The goal should be to make it so difficult to cross the border illegally that no one makes the journey from Mexico, Central America or any other point of origin.
A defense contractor’s dream of command, control, intelligence and surveillance systems and an army of border patrol apprehending millions of people, processing them, housing them, and in many cases releasing them will not stop the problem.
An impenetrable barrier of double and triple layer fencing systems along as much of the 2000 mile border as is necessary to stop 99% of crossings and deter those considering making the journey is required. 700 miles of pedestrian fencing is proposed in S.744, but explicit description of the type of fence and its potential performance is not available.
Such a system will be expensive, unsightly, and unwelcoming, but it will go a long way toward stopping illegal southern border crossings. If the flow is not stopped the U.S. will simply face yet another crises of illegal aliens in another 20 years that will have even greater negative impact. In addition, if there is not a clear, effective, and measurable border control component there will be no compromise on addressing the illegal aliens currently in the U.S.. Those who are willing to compromise on a path to citizenship will not accept the compromise only to revisit this issue in another twenty years because the border was not secured.
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) granted legal status to three million illegal immigrants, but failed to fulfill its intentions to gain control of the southern border and visa overstays. This failure, and recent unilateral action by the executive branch to selectively enforce immigration law, have lowered the level of trust many citizens have in their government to once and for all address the issue and they are not willing to provide any form of accommodation to those living illegally in the U.S. until this problem is solved.
Those who oppose securing the border must acknowledge the lack of trust that exists on this issue and accept that a major thrust of any reform legislation must secure the southern border. To say it cannot or should not be secured is to reject sovereignty and the rule of law.
Visa Overstay Detection and Expulsion
Millions of people enter the U.S. every year legally through three major programs – authorized travel using a visa issued by an embassy or consulate, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel in the U.S. without a visa, and the Canada and Mexico Border Crossing Cards (BCCs). Many stay illegally beyond their authorized visit period. Unimaginably, in this day and age, these authorized entrants are checked on entry by the Department of Homeland Security, but not on exit. Our government knows who enters, when and where, but does not know if they departed when their visa expired.
Nearly 40 million visa admissions were recorded by the Department of Homeland Security in 2011, over 18 million VWP entries from 38 mostly European countries, and an astounding 105 million BCCs. Once again, our government has neither a comprehensive machine readable system to record both entry and exit nor an internal system of immigration enforcement to apprehend and expel those who overstay their authorized visit conditions.
Of course, without accurate data, only estimates of percentages of those who overstay are available. The DHS estimates an overstay rate of 1% for the VWP alone. With 18 million visitors under the VWP program that would represent 180,000 illegal aliens each year or a small city.
After the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 the Congress called for an electronic entry-exit system in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. It was never implemented. After 9/11 the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 and later legislation called for the development of a comprehensive system of monitoring legal entries and exits. Progress has been made, but it is inadequate to solving the problem.
Comprehensive implementation of a machine readable digital system of entry-exit at all land, sea and air entry points is not a simple task and there are competing interests at work as well.
The U.S. does not want to make entry so difficult that legitimate travel and business visitors are deterred by insurmountable security obstacles. The daily crossings of BCC holders for personal and business activities on the Canada and Mexico borders are integral to the cultural and economic foundations of many regions. The solution must be implemented in a manner that is both effective and efficient for all.
It does little good to spend billions of dollars on monitoring the entry and exit of legal visitors if nothing is done when a violation occurs. A system of internal immigration enforcement must be created that results in immediate and effective processing of a legal entry violation. There is little or no discussion of such enforcement in proposed immigration reform bills. A system as simple as processing for immediate deportation any person illegally in the U.S. who is taken into custody by local, state or federal law enforcement would be an effective first step.
Legal Immigration Reform
The system of legal immigration is also in need of reform to adjust the overall number of legal immigrants and the basis for entry to represent the interests of the of the U.S.. The U.S. has adapted its immigration law and policy to address its needs for labor, its concerns about excess immigration, and humanitarian interests throughout its history.
According to the Congressional Research Service legal immigration is at record levels comparable to the early 20th century. In 2013 nearly one million people became Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) of the U.S.. Many already lived in the U.S. as refugees, asylees, temporary workers, foreign students, family members of U.S. citizens, or illegal aliens. Sixty-six percent of new LPRs were granted permanent resident status based on a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S..
Over 40 percent of new LPRs come from Asia and 32 percent from Central America, Cuba, and the Caribbean. In 2013, 14 percent of all persons granted LPR status were born in Mexico. Other prominent countries of birth were China, India, Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. Fifty-eight percent of new LPRs intended to reside in California, New York, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey.
The number of persons who may be admitted to the U.S. as refugees each year is set by the President in Consultation with the Congress and was 70,000 in 2013.
S.744 goes too far in expanding tremendously the volume of legal immigration. It seems clear that the American people desire a system of legal immigration that allows numbers similar to the present one million or fewer. Any final legislation should place a cap on all LPR sources at one million for a five year period with a review every five years to reset the cap higher or lower.
Politics and Trust
Democrat leaders see immigrants as the key to generational control of the federal government. Republican leaders see a changing demographic and grow desperate to do anything to make inroads into Hispanic voters. Democrats court amnesty and open border groups to firm their base. Republicans court the Chamber of Commerce by supporting their demands for an ever expanding pool of cheap labor.
The President seems incapable of leading a divided legislature and increasingly takes executive actions that are at best political and at worst an over reach of executive authority that decreases trust and exacerbates rather than resolves immigration issues.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a recent example of the President overstepping his authority by taking executive action. His action further lowered trust among legislators that he will faithfully execute the law. Further, the unintended consequence of his action was hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. border.
The American people see these actions in the legislature and the executive and wonder where their interests are being addressed; where the interests of the country are represented. The past is clear that when faced with a similar though smaller immigration problem in 1986 their interests were not addressed.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 enabled 2.1 million illegal aliens residing in the U.S. as of 1982 to become LPRs while promising and failing to address the underlying illegal entry issues.
The public's lack of trust in the political class to address the needs of American citizens in immigration reform is appropriate. Past reforms did not address their interests. Proposals such as S.744 do not address their interests. The lack of trust was earned by the political class. Every citizen should make themselves fully aware of the issues and proposed immigration reform legislation and ensure their interests are represented in the final outcome.