Serious, But Flawed


Senators Jon Kyl and John Cornyn introduced a broad immigration bill this week that has much to recommend it. Unlike the McCain-Kennedy bill introduced earlier this year, the Kyl-Cornyn proposal takes enforcement seriously and is not a vehicle for amnesty. Nonetheless, it too is flawed.

That the bill has many strengths is suggested by the fact that it has already been denounced by the Wall Street Journal, the National Council of La Raza, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The chief reason these supporters of lax immigration control decry the bill is its commitment to muscular enforcement of the law, and not just at the border. Nearly two decades after Congress prohibited the employment of illegal aliens, Kyl-Cornyn would finally require employers to electronically verify all new hires’ eligibility to work–an essential step that would dry up employment opportunities for illegal aliens. The bill would reenergize interior immigration enforcement in other ways as well, by adding desperately needed personnel and detention space, mandating the issuance of tamper-resistant Social Security cards, clarifying the existing authority of state and local police to enforce federal immigration law, and instructing the IRS and Social Security to stop accepting fake Social Security numbers, as they have been doing for years.

The most obvious flaw in the bill is the new “temporary” worker program it would set up, allowing an unlimited number of foreign workers to work for a maximum of six years. While this would not be an amnesty–illegals would have to return home to enroll and there’s no green card at the end of the process–it nevertheless suffers from the same shortcomings shared by all guestworker programs: It would distort the industries involved (slowing their modernization by removing the incentive for labor-saving improvements), and it would inevitably generate more illegal immigration and large-scale permanent settlement. There’s just no escaping the reality that cheap labor turns out to be expensive, and temporary workers turn out to be permanent.

“The bill makes, as often happens
in immigration policymaking, the perfect
the enemy of the good.”

Also, the bill’s grace period for illegal aliens to pack up and leave is too long. Illegals who register with the government would be given five years to get their affairs in order and move back home. Although the idea of such a grace period is sound, 12 months would be plenty of time. Human nature being what it is, a five-year grace period would guarantee that most illegals would just put off worrying about departure, hoping that something would change in the meantime–and they would likely be right. What’s more, new data from the Center for Immigration Studies show that during such a five-year interval, some two million babies would be born to illegal-alien mothers, creating two million more U.S. citizen children and making the departure or removal of the parents that much more unlikely.

Last, the bill makes, as often happens in immigration policymaking, the perfect the enemy of the good. At the bill’s unveiling, Sen. Kyl said, “We will have a situation where everybody who is employed in the United States will be employed legally. We’ll be working within the rule of law, we will have a secure interior, and we will have a secure border.” These are all commendable–indeed, urgent–goals. But rather than continue to put off comprehensive enforcement while new tools are brought online, it would be more responsible to start using current resources–right now–to ensure that more of those employed are legal, that we have a more secure border, a more secure interior. And the cascading effect of such an approach, in deterring new illegal immigration and squeezing current illegals out of the country, would render superfluous this bill’s–and many others’–implausible calls for the registration and screening millions of illegal aliens by an already-overwhelmed immigration bureaucracy.

The Kyl-Cornyn proposal is a serious attempt to introduce some honesty and rigor into immigration policy. Sen. Kyl, in particular, has distinguished himself as a leader in Congress on issues of defense and counterterrorism, and his firm commitment to America’s security is the reason the bill is as tough as it is. But this is just a first draft, and as work proceeds in the Senate, and in the House, we hope that the needed improvements will find their way into the final legislation.