Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum for negotiating arms control holds true for implementing immigration reform and border security. The legislation proposed last week in the Senate takes a different approach — “just trust me.” There is a good deal of evidence that that deal is a bad deal.
The attitude senior congressional leaders have taken towards implementation of the REAL ID Act offers a lesson for those who actually believe that this Congress can be trusted to follow through on the promises made in the immigration-reform bill that is now on the floor of the Senate. The REAL ID Act implemented one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. It requires national standards for driver’s licenses, including an assurance that any identity card used for a federal purpose (like passing through a Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint before boarding a plane) only be issued to an individual who is lawfully present in the United States. The law also prompts states to adopt best practices to provide better information protection and combat identity theft, fraud, and counterfeit trafficking in identity documents. Measures in the immigration reform brokered in the Senate even acknowledge that the REAL ID requirements are vital for restoring the credibility of identity cards and the “breeder documents” (like birth certificates) that are used to obtain them.
When Congress passed REAL ID with bipartisan support, it seemed pretty clear that REAL ID was real important. And so you can imagine my surprise when I was called, on almost no notice, to testify before the full Senate Committee on the Judiciary in a hearing earlier this month titled, “Will REAL ID Actually Make Us Safer? An Examination of Privacy and Civil Liberty Concerns.” Good question. Isn’t that something Congress should have done before passing the law? Well, as it happens, they did. Both houses held hearings on the proposal. Apparently, they must have missed something. The Judiciary hearing turned into a direct frontal assault on REAL ID. Before the first question had even been asked, Senator Patrick Leahy, the committee chair, announced: “Given my own concerns, I have joined with Senators Akaka, Sununu, and Tester to introduce a bill that would repeal the driver’s license provisions of the REAL ID Act.”
Support from the administration and its allies was not much better. Only one senator from the minority showed up and didn’t ask any questions. In addition, the administration provided no witnesses and has not requested sufficient appropriations to prompt states to move forward quickly to implement REAL ID.
REAL ID is in real danger of becoming bait-and-switch legislation where Congress talks tough and then fails to deliver the resources or demonstrate the resolve to follow through.
There is every reason to expect the same response to immigration reform.
The very first affect of the passage of the Senate bill as it stands now will be to bestow legal status on the 12 to 15 million unlawfully living in the United States. After that, Congress promises they will ensure immigration laws are enforced and border security is increased.
The problem with these promises is that they ring pretty hollow. All the border-security measures in the bill have already been authorized by Congress in previous laws. So the bill actually adds no additional border security. In addition, the only thing that the promise to undertake security and workplace enforcement provisions really affect is the implementation of the temporary-worker program. Unless the security triggers are met — there will never be a legal alternative to America’s addiction to undocumented labor.
Notice, too, that the strongest advocates for amnesty are also among the harshest critics of creating a temporary-worker program (an initiative widely perceived as anti-union). Since they get their amnesty on the day after the law is passed, what is their incentive to follow through on the legislation’s security requirements? None. In fact, they have every incentive, like they have done with REAL ID, to find all kinds of concerns, problems, challenges, costs, they didn’t happen to notice when they proposed the law. They will find cause to delay, push-off, rethink, and repeal every part of the bill they do not like.
Under this current plan and Congress, America will get an amnesty and little else. This is, in effect, what occurred in 1986 when President Reagan brokered a similar immigration deal with Congress. Why won’t the same thing happen again? Because the leadership of this administration thinks it’s smarter than Reagan. They are wrong. They have already repeated Reagan’s mistake — breaking Reagan’s law: trust, but verify.
– James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.