Politics & Policy

Honesty in Immigration

We need a firm foundation of law.

The thousands of people we have seen marching in the streets of our cities and the planned May 1 boycott to protest U.S. immigration policy are the product of two decades of a fundamentally dishonest immigration system.

For more than 20 years, the United States has failed to control the borders or enforce immigration laws while many U.S. businesses have profited by breaking the law. In turn, the U.S. government failure to enforce the immigration laws has encouraged outright defiance of federal authority by certain state and local jurisdictions. Adding insult to this deplorable state of affairs is an immigration bureaucracy that has been slow, cumbersome, rude, heartless, and incompetent in the discharge of its duties.

This dishonest system has lured millions to enter our country illegally and obtain work here illegally.

Where are we and how should we proceed?

A detailed set of policy recommendations can be found in a working paper that I released today at the American Enterprise Institute. I have also recently recorded several radio commentaries on aspects of the immigration challenge. But let me provide here an overview.

First, it is essential to understand how big and how serious this problem is.

Second, it is equally essential to understand how big the changes will have to be to really solve the problem.

Third, it is important to follow a logical set of sequential, sustainable solutions that build a momentum that over time will result in a rational and orderly immigration policy acceptable to a majority of the American people.

Getting there is a matter of national survival both in immediate and in the long-term.

First, we must deal with the immediate. Open borders are a grave national-security threat. Why have a multibillion-dollar ballistic-missile-defense system when a terrorist can rent a truck and drive a weapon of mass destruction across the border? Gaining control of our borders is therefore an immediate and pressing national-security requirement. The secondary effect is that it would dramatically stem the flow of illegal immigration, illegal drugs, and the human trafficking of slaves (mostly female and mostly for sexual exploitation).

The longer-term threats of illegal immigration are economic and cultural.

Economically, in a world of vast income differences, instantaneous communications, and cheap travel (even when illegal), we cannot continue to allow a wide-open illegal employment system. The current flood of illegal migration if left unchecked for a period of decades will decisively undermine the economy in both economic and legal terms.

Culturally we have shifted from an integrating, English-speaking American citizenship focused model of immigration to an acceptance of foreign habits (which are going to include corruption), foreign loyalties (illustrated by the waving of foreign flags by many of the marchers, some with attitudes of contempt) and the insistence (not necessarily by immigrants) on creating non-English speaking legal and educational structures.

Instinctively, most Americans understand the corrosive effects of lawlessness on the economy and the culture. A USA Today poll two weeks ago recorded that 85 percent believe that to earn citizenship, immigrants should be required to learn English.

Note that in the same poll 84 percent would punish businesses that employ anyone not here legally, 81 percent would increase the number of officers patrolling the border, 60 percent would block them from using hospitals and schools, 61 percent say illegal immigration should be a crime and 52 percent would make it a crime to assist someone known to be here illegally.

Most Americans are open to people who want to become American, who will work hard, obey the law, and who are willing to learn English and American history. Within this framework of patriotic integration it is possible to be both pro-conservative and pro-immigrant.

Law First

But this framework cannot stand unless it is built upon the solid foundation of the rule of law.

For example, cities which receive hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from Washington block their police force from asking about an individual’s legal status (88 percent of the country favors cutting such cities off from federal money). In 2004, there were zero (0) federal enforcement fines imposed on American employers who were breaking the law by hiring people illegally.

No one believes the border is anywhere close to being controlled. Few have confidence that the government will ever seriously do something about it. In the same regard, the idea that the federal government could actually run an effective identification program for worker visas is not credible either which is why every audience applauds when I suggest outsourcing it to Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.

The radical difference between this business as usual paper-tiger effort and the seriousness of the required metrics-based solution is startling.

Lawmakers in Washington are trapped because they keep trying to appease lawbreakers while their fellow Americans watch with disgust. On the other hand, if lawmakers boldly outline a real sequential and systematic set of solutions they could win the argument in the country and move towards a workable policy that honors our values. If they fail to do this, American voters will eventually impose their will on Washington with painful political consequences for some incumbents.

Why is it so hard for some Republicans to understand the center-right view that it is far better to have Left-liberal Senators filibustering against controlled borders and effective legality than it is to appease them while enraging conservatives? If the issues are defined and communicated correctly, center-right support would grow into the 80-percent range (look again at the USA Today poll numbers).

It is possible to describe the situation in terms which are for both legality and immigration, for both controlling the border and having a worker visa program, for being sympathetic to newcomers and determined to sustain American civilization and for respecting other languages while embracing English as the language necessary for success in America. It is possible to do this in terms which will be acceptable to most immigrants and to most Americans.

It is partially a question of what we are opposed to.

If the Left-liberal choice is this map of Texas and Mexico combined with the rest of the U.S. missing, and the Mexican flag flying above an upside down American flag at an American pubic school in Arizona and the people who not only break the law but refuse to learn English while saying publicly they want to reunite the Southwest with Mexico, then you can safely assume that more than 80% of Americans will oppose you.

Left-liberals understanding that they cannot defend the above, which is why they would like us instead to believe that they are fighting against racists who want to close the border, behave harshly against innocent people, break up families, exploit migrants, and live in a xenophobic world.

An intelligent center-Right coalition would be for both security and immigration, for accuracy in identity (including a voter card with id and a biometric worker visa card) and patriotic integration of those who want to become American.

An intelligent center-Right coalition would define the opposition in terms that would lead most honest migrants to feel comfortable with defining clearly the underlying anti-security, anti-accuracy, anti-American civilization patterns of the hard Left-liberals.

Most Republicans could be convinced to articulate and follow an intelligent center-Right coalition if they understood it and understood the power of the language and the power of the definitions.


Charles Krauthammer has it right. There has to be a sequence of reestablishing trust.

First, control the borders with decisive legislation aggressively implemented with tight deadlines. Once we have stopped the illegal flow of people we will have demonstrated the seriousness necessary to gain both the credibility and the leverage needed to implement the next steps. Fortunately, a bipartisan consensus has emerged that securing the borders is indeed priority number one. Three national leaders have it right in their shared view that border control is the first step. Senator Frist is exactly right when he wrote recently that “to build confidence among Americans and Congress that the government takes border security seriously, we have to act to help get the border under control right now.” Senator Clinton is also right when she recently recognized the need for a “smart fence” along the border to enhance security. And Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is also correct when he said last week that “the first thing we want is tough border control.”

Accordingly, the Congress should pass a border-control bill immediately. There is no reason the Congress cannot immediately pass such a bill, and then concentrate on additional immigration reform measures later. The Congress should immediately act on this one aspect of immigration reform around which there is widespread agreement. America needs real border control immediately.

Second, establish patriotic integration and the primacy of English (English first, not English only) combined with a requirement that Americans can only vote in American elections and applicants for citizenship have to select where their loyalty is.

Third, establish real enforcement against unlawful employment by employers and especially against employers who are breaking both immigration and taxation laws. Make clear that the dishonest hiring and tax evasion of the last two decades are over and there will be expensive penalties for people who break American immigration law. Insist that cities enforce the law or lose their federal funding. All this can be done with the right incentives and without rounding up anyone.

Fourth, establish an outsourced worker visa program with a biometric identity card, a background check, and a 24/7 computerized real time verification capability so no business can claim ignorance. Permit businesses to send workers home to apply for their worker visa as a deductible business expense. Eliminate the fly-by-night subcontractor shams that are clearly set up to evade the law. Maximize the opportunity and the incentives for people who are here to return home and become legal.

Note that none of the above requires direct action against people who are here illegally. None of these steps will break up families or cause undue hardship. The focus of all these initial efforts is to stop the attraction of new people and to dry up the illegal jobs. If illegal jobs cannot be found, people will have no choice but to pursue legal means to employment.

Implemented correctly, these steps would convince people about the seriousness of the new policy and its enforcement creating a much more rational environment to discuss the emotional and complex situations affecting families and long time workers and residents.

As we transform our immigration system from a dishonest to an honest one, it is understandable that those living and working here illegally–especially those who have lived and worked here illegally for a long period of time–would be anxious and fearful about the future. While our two-decade-long failure does not mean that we are required to maintain a dishonest system, it does mean that must have a humanitarian period of transition as we replace an illegal channel of immigration with a legal one.

There is a huge difference between a cautious limited policy of integrating the people attracted by a dishonest and shameful policy (the deliberate cultivation of illegality over the last 20 years) and amnesty which will only reinforce the message of the dishonest past and create a wave of people who will continue to pour in expecting the continuation of the yesterday’s failed policies.

If lawmakers can agree to the first four steps we have plenty of time to think through and work out the details of a humane, compassionate, and legitimate process of patriotic integration for people who were lured to America by an incompetent government and lawbreaking businesses and who do not deserve to bear the full brunt of popular anger at such dishonest and hypocritical policies.

If the American people see that their leaders are serious and determined to control the border then create an effective worker-visa program along with a comprehensive program of patriotic integration into American civilization they will be much more supportive of a program for helping those with deep connections to America find their legal place in American society.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

Most Popular

White House

Trump’s Disgraceful Endgame

President Trump said the other day that he’d leave office if he loses the vote of the Electoral College on December 14. This is not the kind of assurance presidents of the United States typically need to make, but it was noteworthy given Trump’s disgraceful conduct since losing his bid for reelection to ... Read More
White House

Trump’s Disgraceful Endgame

President Trump said the other day that he’d leave office if he loses the vote of the Electoral College on December 14. This is not the kind of assurance presidents of the United States typically need to make, but it was noteworthy given Trump’s disgraceful conduct since losing his bid for reelection to ... Read More

Our Conspiracy-Minded Subculture

On the menu today: Attorney General William Barr declares that he and the Department of Justice have found no evidence of widespread vote fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election; some Trump fans conclude the attorney general has been a deep-state sleeper all along; and why this country is likely ... Read More

Our Conspiracy-Minded Subculture

On the menu today: Attorney General William Barr declares that he and the Department of Justice have found no evidence of widespread vote fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election; some Trump fans conclude the attorney general has been a deep-state sleeper all along; and why this country is likely ... Read More