The good news is Congress cares about trying to fix our flawed immigration system and broken borders.
The bad news is they want to do it with a solution that looks a lot like Obamacare—the “Gang of Eight” 844-page-plus “comprehensive” bill.
The sad news is that such an “easy button” solution will not improve our immigration system.
History shows that big bills designed to solve everything wind up creating as many problems as they address. They become loaded with payoffs for special interests and often introduce measures that work at cross purposes.
The “comprehensive” bill fails at the start. Here are the top five reasons it cannot be fixed.
1. Amnesty. This bill grants amnesty. It creates a framework for legalization for the estimated 11 million people unlawfully present in the United States. Anyone who was present in the U.S. before 2012 qualifies, but there is too much opportunity for fraud—since there is no proof required that applicants have been here for several years.
2. Fiscal Costs to the Taxpayer. This plan does not account for the government benefits, especially welfare and entitlement benefits, that would be paid to those who are legalized over their lifetimes. The additional costs to taxpayers would be enormous. Some argue that amnesty would bring economic gains, but these would actually be captured by the formerly unlawful immigrants themselves. Legalization brings little economic benefit to the rest of us.
3. Government Spending. The bill is a Trojan horse for government spending, and in some cases, it appears the funding is unrestricted or ill-defined. Just one example is a $6.5 billion “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Trust,” which includes a $2 billion “slush fund” for border security.
Our federal government currently spends $1 trillion more per year than it takes in, so adding on a new, unlimited spending commitment makes no sense at all. The entire cost of implementing the bill has yet to be determined. Further, the bill trashes fiscal discipline, exploiting “a loophole in the Budget Control Act (BCA) that allows Congress to spend more than allowed under the spending caps adopted in 2011.”
4. “Border Triggers.” The bill requires certification of “border triggers” for stemming the tide of illegal border crossings before additional steps in the legalization process can proceed.
But the Department of Homeland Security has been trying unsuccessfully to define credible metrics for border security since 2004. Even if it had effective “triggers,” that does not guarantee a secure border. Border crossing conditions constantly change. Even if the goal is achieved, there is no guarantee it will stay that way.
Amnesty creates an incentive for illegal border crossings and overstays. Thus, the strategy laid out would drive up the cost of securing the border. Just throwing money at the border does not make sense. The policies adopted on both sides of the border are more important.
For example, the Coast Guard is significantly underfunded and unprepared. America’s coastlines are already seeing a significant increase in illegal entry by sea, a trend that has been growing since 2007.
5. Lawful Immigration Reform. The bill “modernizes” lawful immigration and non-immigration visas. These modernizations include substantially lowering “chain” migration; abolishing the diversity lottery; expanding the visa waiver; increasing high-skill migration; and expanding temporary worker programs.
Reforming the legal immigration system—in principle—is laudable. But trying to craft precise measures in a massive bill like this is difficult. For example, though it sounds innocuous, one provision in the legislation could lead to big problems. The legislation allows documents “issued by a federally recognized Indian tribe” to be used for identity and employment purposes. Numerous Indian tribes exist along the southern border, including the Texas Kickapoo, the Ysleta Del Sur, and, the largest, the Tohona O’Odham. Indian reservations already serve as drug pipelines and have been cited as weak links in border security. Given these issues, does it really make sense to add this exemption to legislation aimed at minimizing identification fraud?
Once we get it right, there is strong bipartisan support that modernizing lawful immigration ought to be a priority. Congress should put its effort into accomplishing that aim—moving forward on an area of strong agreement, while allowing time to debate issues where there is not strong consensus.
We deserve better—all of us. Employers deserve better than having to sift through falsified credentials or risk breaking the law. Families in communities burdened by the impacts of illegal immigration deserve better. In fact, all who cherish a society that is committed to keeping America both a nation of immigrants and a country that respects its laws deserve better.
Immigration reform can move forward on many fronts at the same time, focusing on some commonsense initiatives that begin to address the practical challenges of our immigration system. The key is to begin by working on the solutions on which we can all agree, rather than insisting on a comprehensive approach that divides us.
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