The Senate abandoned a wrongheaded effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform on Thursday night. The bill’s defeat represented more than stopping bad legislation. It actually put the Congress two thirds of the way towards doing what needs to be done to solve the problem.
The reason the legislation failed was simple: It would have granted amnesty to the 12 million or more illegally in the United States and done little to secure the border, enforce the law, or encourage lawful migration. Together that was a recipe for disaster that would have left us worse off than we are now. Indeed, it was the strategy we tried in 1986; it failed miserably. It would have failed again.
Rather than just throwing up its hands, throwing around blame, and throwing out the hope of comprehensive reform, Congress should try an alternative approach: (1) Deny amnesty to people here illegally that will help deter future illegal migration and make the point that we insist everyone respect the rule of law. (2) Enforce workplace laws on the books and gain back control of our southern border. (3) Create more practical and flexible legal opportunities to come and work in the United States. Together these measures offer a real strategy for breaking America’s addiction to undocumented labor.
This strategy is not only realistic. It is within our grasp. Most of the authorities required to beef-up border security and workplace enforcement are already on the books, approved by Congress. In addition, the defeat of the Senate bill is a rejection of amnesty. What is needed to complete the picture is practical and realistic legal alternatives to undocumented workers. That means more visas for high-skilled labor and a temporary-worker program. These initiatives must be based on the labor needs of the marketplace and not driven by bureaucratic direction from Washington, nor undermined by the unrealistic requirements demanded by organized labor.
By creating more realistic and flexible legal alternatives for working in the United States, Congress can deliver on its promise to address comprehensive immigration and border-security reform. That would be a real achievement that the Congress and the president could be proud of. And unlike the Senate’s “crash and burn” bill, it will actually help make America safer and more prosperous.