The Gang of Eight’s “comprehensive” immigration-reform bill contains a number of superficially attractive security mandates: It would require the federal government to have 100 percent “situational awareness” of the border, to catch 90 percent of illegal border-crossers in high-traffic areas, to establish a tracking system to address the problem of those who enter the country illegally but overstay their visas, etc. So attractive are those goals that we have supported them in the past, on the many occasions upon which the government has promised to achieve them. Disappointingly, Washington keeps failing to deliver on its promises. The unspoken premise of the Gang of Eight bill is: This time it’s different. We are skeptical that this is so. And regardless, there is a great deal in this package that is deeply objectionable.
Unfortunately, this is the same amnesty-first/enforcement-later model that has burned us before. Senator Marco Rubio’s admirers like to compare him to Ronald Reagan, and in this case he resembles the 40th president in putting too much faith in the willingness of Washington to deliver border security in the face of opposition from ethnic-solidarity politics and the cheap-labor lobby.
Congress mandated the creation of a visa-tracking system, for instance, in 1996. Since then, Congress has on multiple occasions reiterated its demand that the executive branch comply with the law, and the executive branch has on each occasion failed to do so: Bill Clinton’s administration failed to do so, George W. Bush’s administration failed to do so, and Barack Obama’s administration thus far has failed to do so. The system the bill would mandate is even weaker than the system already mandated: It would apply at airports and seaports, but not for land crossings. If we are being asked to believe that this requirement will inspire President Obama to suddenly get religion on the subject of illegal immigration, we say that the evidence is against such a proposition, and that hoping that whoever follows him will do so is simply an act of faith — and though prayer availeth much, it is insufficient grounds for national-security policy.
Consider the standards already at work: Under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, some illegals are given a discretionary grant of relief from deportation after what is supposed to be a rigorous screening process to weed out criminals and national-security threats. But “criminals” has a rather loose definition — you can have a couple of convictions and remain golden in the eyes of Obama’s DHS, so long as you pled any felony charges down to misdemeanors — the result of which is a 99.5 percent approval rate. Presumably, we can expect such “rigorous” standards to prevail throughout this process.
There are other, better provisions. We very strongly support mandating the use of E-Verify or a similar system nationwide in order to ensure that businesses hire only those workers who are legally eligible to be employed in the United States. While there are some procedural challenges associated with creating an effective national E-Verify system, doing so would be the easiest — and probably most effective — way of policing those who enter the United States illegally for economic purposes. (Casual day labor would remain a draw.) Mandating E-Verify is so obvious and sensible a move that it should have been done years ago in a standalone piece of legislation, but that bill was rejected — and those who opposed it, including business interests and farm-state Republicans, will have similar incentives to water down enforcement provisions in any compromise bill that passes Congress. There is nothing in this bill’s compliance-and-sanctions provisions that suggests enforcement would prevail over those who would prefer a looser system.
The full implementation of the three main security measures — national E-Verify, the visa-tracking system, and the 100/90 border-control standard — would have to be ratified before the second stage of the program, a “path to citizenship” for former illegals, would be implemented. If those goals were not met within five years, then a panel of border-state governors and attorneys general would inherit the responsibility and authority for seeing to it that they were met thereafter. Our admiration for the border-state leadership is mixed — Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott are our cup of tea, Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris less so — but at any rate, it is far from clear that the leadership of four states should be entrusted with overseeing a policy that affects the entire country; Virginia and Nevada do not border Mexico, but they have a stake in the illegal-immigration battle, too. Essentially, this bill would give us immediate amnesty in exchange for a DHS plan backed by a border-state panel’s plan to have a plan.
Unhappily, the foregoing observations are among the best things that can be said about this bill. It not only would offer amnesty to the 11 million or so illegals currently in the country but also would readmit many of those who have been deported. The argument for normalizing the status of illegals already resident in the United States has in the main proceeded from the fact that they are already resident in the United States — offering legal status for those who are not living in the United States is indefensible.
Further, the bill would open up the floodgates for unskilled laborers. Many of those unskilled laborers would be brought in under guest-worker programs, which are in and of themselves objectionable. They amount to nothing more than the creation of a caste of second-class workers for the benefit of certain business interests. Congress should be establishing standards oriented toward attracting highly skilled, highly educated workers; this bill would move in the opposite direction, though it would liberalize visa rules for some skilled workers.