Congress passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act ten years ago this summer, making it illegal to kill a baby who had been born despite an abortion attempt. The bill had very little practical purpose, as few babies survive attempted abortions. Rather, the goal was to expose and isolate the radicals on the pro-choice side who would oppose such a measure, thus helping move public opinion in a more pro-life direction. As Hadley Arkes wrote on NRO at the time, “no one except a crazed zealot would profess any doubt about the ‘human’ standing of the child at the point of birth.”
Each side on the immigration-control debate thinks it has a similar issue. For the pro-amnesty crowd, it’s the DREAM Act; for immigration hawks, it’s the Secure Communities program. The problem for the open-borders folks is that they’re the only ones who think the DREAM Act is an unopposable bill — in fact, it’s been voted down in Congress more than once and no one’s suffered any consequences. The problem for the immigration hawks is that too much of the ostensibly pro-enforcement Republican leadership is too timid to see the power of Secure Communities as a political tool.
At first blush, you can see why the immigration expansionists would think DREAM is the Born-Alive Act of the amnesty movement. It focuses on the most sympathetic group of illegal aliens: those who came as children and who fulfill certain educational or military-service requirements. Who’s against bright, patriotic children? Obviously, only “crazed zealots.”
But the DREAM Act’s supporters want the law to do more than the Born-Alive approach can accomplish. The bill itself casts a very wide net. And even more important, in several of their attempts to pass the legislation, advocates figured they could immediately leverage sympathy for DREAM kids into the whole “comprehensive immigration reform” package — amnesty for all 11 million illegals plus huge increases in future immigration. To boil down their message: Little Juan here was brought to America two weeks after his birth, has lived here his whole life, speaks only English, was the valedictorian at his high school, and after graduating from MIT intends to devote his life to hunting down America’s enemies; therefore, all illegal aliens deserve amnesty.
What their surefire winner has turned into is just another legislative proposal, open to discussion and compromise. Senator Marco Rubio is reported to be working on a DREAM Act 2.0, an attempt at addressing the issue while avoiding the very real problems that any amnesty will cause. There are several elements that would have to be incorporated into any sensible version of such legislation, including:
a lowering of the required initial age of entry, so the bill would apply only to those who were brought here very young and thus whose identities were formed here;
enforcement measures to ensure we don’t have this same debate ten years from now, namely real border fencing, mandatory E-Verify, full state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities, and a functioning check-out system for foreign visitors (since close to half of illegals are visa overstayers);
a means of preventing the adults who put their children into this predicament in the first place from ever benefiting — i.e., a way of ensuring that a limited amnesty wouldn’t turn into an unstoppable engine of chain migration.
Senator Rubio is reported to be considering giving the DREAM beneficiaries a renewable work visa rather than permanent residence (green cards) leading to citizenship — with only “nonimmigrant” visas, they wouldn’t be able to sponsor future immigrants. (An approach I’m more comfortable with would be to give green cards, but eliminate the chain-migration categories altogether.)
In any case, the DREAM Act has turned into just another legislative football with little chance of passage, rather than something only “crazed zealots” could oppose.
Immigration hawks have something much more suited to the Born-Alive approach. The Secure Communities program is the kind of thing that’s so obvious that most laymen think it’s been standard procedure all along. It involves checking the fingerprints of booked criminal suspects against not only the FBI’s database, but also against the immigration database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. In other words, when a person is arrested for a state crime unrelated to immigration, he is still checked for immigration violations. I don’t think any polling has been conducted, but I’d guess motherhood and apple pie would be hard-pressed to compete for public support with checking the fingerprints of criminals to see if they’re known illegal aliens.
Like Born-Alive, the program is limited. Specifically, when illegal aliens are identified, the law doesn’t require them to actually be picked up. There could be reasons — some good, some bad — that immigration authorities would decide not to take into custody everyone in every county jail who was identified as deportable. But who could possibly oppose at least checking to see if the person in custody is wanted by Homeland Security? If you oppose this you really are against any form of immigration enforcement.
As it turns out, the open-borders crowd is akin to NARAL. It’s chock-full of “crazed zealots” who oppose Secure Communities: Scott Brown’s opponent Elizabeth Warren, Illinois governor Pat Quinn, the AFL-CIO, the Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at Berkeley Law School, and so on. This presents a marvelous opportunity for Republicans, if only they could see what is in front of their noses.
The program already exists, having been started during the George W. Bush administration, and operates in many parts of the country. But the open-borders people both inside and outside the Obama administration are troubled by the fact that Secure Communities is identifying illegal aliens who’ve committed what they consider “minor” crimes unworthy of deportation, such as assault and battery on a police officer, drunk driving, driving without a license, and wife-beating. There’s a mainstream-liberal coalition based in New York that doesn’t want even violent criminals to be deported.
As a result, the advocacy groups are calling for the suspension or elimination of Secure Communities and have succeeded in obstructing its implementation in a number of locations; while the administration has continued to defend Secure Communities up to now, the White House clearly doesn’t like it either, and it’s entirely possible that it will slow the rollout or gut the program in some other way.
That’s why Republicans need to demand that Secure Communities be activated right now, everywhere. There’s no technical or legal or administrative obstacle. No new legislation is required. This should be presented as a tightly focused initiative separate from any other immigration issue — it doesn’t matter what you think of the fence or H-1B visas or the DREAM Act or anything else — just flip the switch, so that whenever police anywhere send in a suspect’s fingerprints to check for outstanding warrants or arrests in other states, immigration status will also be checked.
Such an effort would be widely popular, supported by large shares of Democrats and independents, many of them dovish on immigration but still supportive of basic controls. Examples are multiplying around the country of illegal aliens arrested for “minor” crimes — but not deported — who go on to kill innocent Americans, and outrage over these incidents crosses party lines.
In fact, the traditional leaders on immigration — House judiciary chairman Lamar Smith, for instance — have been sounding the alarm about the Obama administration’s reluctance to enforce the law for some time. But for this “just flip the switch” approach to work, it needs to be championed by Republican leaders, such as the presidential standard-bearer, the speaker of the House, and the Senate minority leader, and be highlighted on the Sunday talk shows and featured in op-eds by political heavyweights. Presented as a stand-alone measure that forecloses no other immigration options, it can expose for all to see the open-borders radicalism of those who continue to oppose it.
The DREAM Act did not serve as the clarifying factor its supporters thought it would. But Secure Communities can, if only politicians have the wit to use it.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.