It is also telling that the debate over the use of a biometric exit-entry system to prevent visa overstays is being conducted as though it were primarily a question of cost. Congress already has passed a law mandating the creation of a visa-control system, and that law has been ignored. Visa overstays are the source of nearly half of our illegal immigrants, and they represent a serious national-security threat as well: Four of the 9/11 hijackers were in the United States as a result of our national unwillingness or inability to enforce visa rules. Yes, creating a biometric visa-control system would be expensive; refusing to create one imposes costs as well, one of which can be seen at memorials in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. That the federal government cannot find the resources to perform basic law-enforcement and border-security tasks in a budget approaching $4 trillion is an indicator that the main hurdle to securing our border is not resources but will.
The actions of the Judiciary Committee do not indicate that the government finally has mustered the necessary will — precisely the opposite, in fact. As Senator Sessions put it: “None of the significant amendments have been accepted. It’s pretty clear that the Gang of Eight’s original statement that they would resist any significant changes to the bill is coming true.”
The approach is slapdash, and the stakes could hardly be higher. Creating more than 30 million new immigrants, including 11 million former illegals, and supplanting their numbers with another 20-odd million guest workers is from a sociological and demographic point of view quite radical: 30 million is roughly a tenth of the current population of the United States. How we handle immigration is of fundamental importance to questions ranging from national security to economic growth to the character of our nation itself. That we cannot get a couple of small-time performance benchmarks written into the bill suggests that this issue is not being treated with the intelligence and the prudence it deserves.
This series of legislative failures is perhaps the best piece of evidence for taking a different approach to the question: Rather than one swollen, era-defining legislative package, what is required here is several pieces of narrowly tailored legislation, each targeted toward a specific aspect of the immigration question. We can and should control the borders and enforce visa rules regardless of what we decide to do about the illegals already present within our borders. The guest-worker program deserves to be rejected on its own — it is a non-solution to a non-problem — rather than bundled together with national-security priorities.
As it stands, the Senate is preparing to send a defective piece of legislation to the House. However the politics shake out, our immigration system remains in dire need of reform, a project that requires leadership of a higher caliber than that shown so far by the Gang of Eight.