Politics & Policy

What Not to Legislate

How not to fix our immigration laws.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote today on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill. With thousands of illegal immigrants rushing across our borders every day, straining every sector of our society, congressional attention to this issue is appropriate and overdue.

I come to this debate honestly seeking a legitimate solution to this divisive and contentious issue. However, if one were to imagine the worst possible way to reform our immigration system, it would probably look a lot like the immigration bill the U.S. Senate is currently considering–a broad amnesty program for most illegal immigrants, increased financial burdens on honest tax-paying American citizens, and incentives for illegal immigrants to raid the Social Security system and lie about their work history. While the Senate has not yet passed a final bill, there are three primary reasons why I cannot support S. 2611 as it is written.

First, this bill largely rewards those who have broken the law and threatens the health of our nation’s social safety net–Social Security–by adding millions of new beneficiaries to an already unsustainable program. Millions of illegal immigrants who forged identification documents and used stolen or fraudulent Social Security numbers when seeking employment will be given the opportunity to stay in America, receive Social Security benefits, and continue their lives.

Instead of deterring illegal behavior, S. 2611 rewards illegal immigrants by putting our current elderly beneficiaries, who paid into the Social Security system for decades in order to collect the benefits they receive today, further at risk in an already stretched system. Additionally, Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation conservatively estimates that this bill could increase welfare costs by some $11.4 billion per year.

Second, the low hurdles to citizenship this bill erects–making illegal immigrants stand at the back of the immigration line while remaining in our country (and pushing others outside of the country further back in line); forcing them to pay only three years of back income taxes after the IRS, rather than they themselves, figures out how much they owe; collecting a nominal fee of $2,000 per immigrant–mock and demean the sacrifices of those who waited years to immigrate through our established legal channels. Worse, like the immigration law passed in 1986, it creates a disincentive to legally apply for citizenship.

Those who broke the law when coming into America, broke the law when getting a job, and broke the law by failing to pay the same taxes as American workers, continue to break the law by residing here illegally. This bill is dangerous precedent and sends a chilling message about our national integrity: America has lost the will to enforce her laws, and her sovereignty is for sale–currently, for around $2,000.

Third, S. 2611 will allow “guest-workers” to apply for eventual citizenship, effectively nullifying the “guest” nature of the proposal. I could support a temporary worker program if there were reasonable assurances that those we admitted really were here only temporarily. This bill provides no such assurances.

I further cannot support an amnesty proposal now because amnesty has failed in the past. In 1986, Congress attempted to address this same issue, though on a much smaller scale. Estimates of the size of the illegal-immigrant population in the U.S. in 1986 placed the total number close to 1 million; today we are dealing with around 12 million. If providing amnesty to one million illegal immigrants yielded 12 million over the course of 20 years, with how many additional millions will we be burdened in 2026 by offering amnesty now?

This bill rewards illegal behavior, threatens our social-welfare system, devalues the legal-immigration process, turns illegal immigrants into permanent residents, and fails the test of history. The Senate should reject S. 2611.

 

–Senator Rick Santorum is a Republican from Pennsylvania.

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