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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

The CBO on Future Unauthorized Immigration



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Conn Carroll highlights one of the more peculiar aspects of the Senate immigration bill. Though its Republican sponsors often reference its tough enforcement measures, the CBO estimate that it will only reduce the net flow of unauthorized immigration by 25 percent. And so the CBO projects that the unauthorized immigration population in 2023 will be 8.3 million, which includes the 3.5 million who will not be granted legal status under the bill and 4.8 million unauthorized immigrants who will settle in the U.S. over the intervening period.

Michael Clemens, a close observer of the immigration debate and a staunch advocate of a dramatic increase in less-skilled immigration to the U.S. on the grounds that it will help reduce global poverty levels, observes that “no one involved has been serious about tackling unauthorized immigration.” Clemens, of course, believes that the only way to tackle unauthorized immigration is to further liberalize U.S. immigration laws.

There are, however, other strategies the U.S. might pursue. One premise of the immigration bill has been that it imposes tough enforcement measures in exchange for granting legal status to the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the U.S. But reducing the influx of unauthorized immigrants by 25 percent seems like a relatively modest victory. Congress might instead embrace something like Canada’s approach, as described by Stephen Marche in Bloomberg View last year:

The Canadian obsession with order can make for strange politics, at least in an American context. For example, of all the world’s societies, Canada’s is one of the most open to immigrants, as anyone who has been to Toronto or Vancouver will have seen. Yet Canada also imposes a mandatory one-year prison sentence on illegal immigrants, and the majority of Canadians favor deportation. Canadians insist that their compassion be orderly, too.

This immigration policy is neither “liberal” nor “conservative” in the American political sense. It just works.

Artur Davis has also raised this possibility:

I would rather see an immigration approach that got tougher in tangible ways, like making illegal entry a felony and making an illegal immigrant’s failure to declare and register a deportable offense, but still provided some form of legal gateway for the undocumented, to either the overly complex bill working its way through the Senate or to an enforcement only approach.

Suffice it to say, a mandatory one-year prison sentence might be practicable for Canada, which has the U.S. to serve as an immigration buffer, but it would be an enormously expensive and labor-intensive undertaking for the U.S., and it would almost certainly meet with fierce political resistance. I wouldn’t recommend that we take this step likely. It is strange, however, that conservative backers of the Senate bill haven’t demanded more in the way of measures designed to stem future unauthorized immigration, or to guarantee that unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the U.S. go through the process of determining whether or not they are eligible for legal status.



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