The Corner

No Excuse for Amnesty First

One of the reasons the amnesty-first crowd has opposed making legalization contingent on the complete implementation of enforcement measures is that they think it would take too long.

Whatever you think of that argument, its factual basis has been eliminated by a new report from my colleague Janice Kephart. She took a close look at the options for biometric recording of the departures of legal foreign visitors at airports and seaports and found that, contrary to administration claims, it’s both technically feasible and cost-effective.

The Gang of Eight bill requires such a system to be in place a decade in the future, maybe, as a condition for the amnesty recipients to upgrade their legal status from green-card-lite to green-card-premium. Among the concerns of critics is that once all the illegals have been legalized (which happens shortly after Obama has his bill-signing ceremony) the various enforcement promises, including the one for exit-tracking, will fade away and be ignored. This is not an idle concern; the development of an electronic exit-tracking system has already been mandated by Congress eight times (I’d thought it was just six) and we still don’t have one. If you don’t have a reliable record of which foreign visa-holders have left the country, you can’t know which ones overstayed and became illegal aliens (overstays are believed to account for some 40 percent of the total illegal-alien population).

Kephart found that off-the-shelf technology exists to do airport and seaport exit-tracking right now, without having to wait until the 2020s. Furthermore, no massive reworking of airport infrastructure is required, the costs are much more modest than the anti-enforcement bureaucrats have estimated, and those costs can be entirely covered by modest increases in visa fees. (The report is here; the Washington Times front-page story on it is here.) More than a dozen countries are already recording the departures of foreign visitors biometrically, i.e., with facial recognition or fingerprints, to make sure they’re actually the people who entered in the first place. This is necessary because biographic exit-tracking, just checking names and documents, is much more susceptible to fraud. Finally, Kephart found that the same U.S. government that has so far refused to do biometric exit-tracking here is actually using taxpayer money to help Nigeria and the Philippines set up such systems for themselves.

The development of a proper exit-tracking system at land crossings is a horse of a different color, though still doable. That’s important because most foreigners entering and leaving the U.S. do so by land, not sea or air. But that’s no reason not to achieve what’s achievable now and work on the rest over time.

This underlines an important point: The enforcement benchmarks in the Gang of Eight bill are already compromises. For instance, this latest requirement that exit-tracking finally be implemented at airports and seaports only covers about one-fourth of the foreigners who come here annually as non-immigrants (tourists, business travelers, students, etc.). Likewise with E-Verify; the bill actually abolishes the existing E-Verify system and calls for the development of a new and improved replacement that exists only in Chuck Schumer’s imagination. It also does not require the verification of existing workers, even after the amnesty has been completed, when the only remaining illegal workers would be those who didn’t qualify for amnesty.

The point is that even if these enforcement benchmarks had to be completed before any amnesty began, they’re still only partial measures. Postponing them till a decade after all the illegals have been legalized isn’t a compromise — it’s proof of bad faith.


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