To Reform Immigration, Legal and Illegal
From the August 15, 2011, issue of NR


Mark Krikorian

It’s not enough for a candidate to say he’s against illegal immigration but in favor of legal immigration. The inevitable question then is: How much legal immigration, and by whom?

The most indefensible feature of our legal immigration system is the diversity visa lottery. It was invented in 1986 as a way to grant amnesty to Irish illegal aliens and has since morphed into a program that provides green cards at random to foreigners — most from the Middle East, Africa, and the former Soviet bloc — without any real standards concerning education or job skills. Each year’s 50,000 winners have friends and family back home, many of whom will then also want to immigrate. And the 15 million people who applied last year developed expectations of moving to the United States that could never be met, thus encouraging illegal immigration.

Another legal-immigration no-brainer concerns the 60,000 adult siblings of U.S. citizens who are allowed to migrate to the United States each year simply because of their brothers or sisters. Adult-sibling immigration means an ever-larger share of the globe’s population has a claim to enter the United States, as the siblings of earlier immigrants enter with their spouses, who have their own siblings, whose spouses in turn have their own siblings, and so on. No other country allows this, and there’s simply no “family reunification” rationale for admitting from abroad whole new families of adults.

These two changes alone — ending the visa lottery and chain migration — would reduce future legal immigration from about 1.1 million to about 1 million a year.

An upgraded package would include everything in the basic package, plus the following legal- and illegal-immigration reforms.

The first is to double deportations. Much of the reduction in the illegal population will come voluntarily, as illegal aliens come to understand they will not be able to find work or live a normal life here. But that is no reason to let up on deportations. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is doing just that. It has touted the “removal” of nearly 400,000 aliens each year (a statistic that also includes the exclusion of people trying to enter the country), but in fact the steady increase in deportations we saw since the mid-1990s has come to halt. Doubling the number of aliens deported, both violent criminals and ordinary illegal aliens, is a practical goal. Achieving it would require expanded use of “expedited removal,” an authority granted by Congress to remove illegal aliens without going through the court system, along with more detention beds to hold illegals so they don’t run off while in proceedings, expanded partnering with local law enforcement through the Secure Communities and 287(g) programs, and arresting illegal aliens in worksite raids, something the Obama White House has essentially prohibited.

Second, we should fully implement the US-VISIT program, which is supposed to check in and check out foreign visitors, verifying their identities with biometric information, allowing us better to know who’s entered, who’s departed, and who’s remained here as an illegal alien. Congress has repeatedly demanded the completion of this system, which was first mandated in 1996, and there’s been progress, but the administration has announced that it has no intention of finishing the job. At present, the information is collected from outbound air travelers voluntarily at airport kiosks — hardly a secure approach. The vast majority of foreign visitors (most of them Canadians and Mexicans crossing overland on ostensibly short visits) are not being checked in or out at all.

The third component would be to go beyond the basic package in ending chain migration. For obvious reasons, we grant special immigration privileges to the foreign-born spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens: Husbands, wives, and minor children should be together. But there is no equally obvious reason to extend similar privileges to adult children or parents, or to the newly married spouses of non-citizen green-card holders. To do so obscures the relationship between citizenship and immigration rights. Limiting family immigration to the husbands, wives, and dependent children of American citizens would still allow in a pretty large number — more than 350,000 of last year’s 1.1 million new legal immigrants would still have qualified — but it would prevent endless chains of relatives from taking over the immigration flow.