“A new enlightened policy of immigration need not provide for unlimited immigration, but simply for so much immigration as our country could absorb and which would be in the national interest.“
John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants
Since the publication of John F. Kennedy’s book by the same name, Americans have viewed themselves as a “Nation of Immigrants.” We are rightfully proud of the contributions that immigrants have and continue to make to this nation. However, the type and scale of immigration America faces in the 21st Century is unprecedented. Furthermore, we are no longer an unpopulated country with an open frontier and no welfare state, which can accommodate massive immigration.
From the Founding-era through the early 20th Century, America had a relatively open immigration policy. Still, Congress and the states enacted many policies to exclude and deport criminals and public charges.
European immigration peaked during the late 19th and early 20th Century, with as many as a million immigrants arriving annually. The 1924 Immigration Act created quotas that greatly reduced immigration levels, and also gave preference to immigrants from Northern Europe. During this time period, a policy of strict Americanization helped assimilate the immigrants already here. Without a welfare state, many immigrants returned home, when they could not find work.
Low immigration levels remained until the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. Supporters of the Act insisted that they were merely removing the discriminatory preference for Northern Europeans without significantly changing the scope and scale of immigration to this country. During congressional debates over the bill, Ted Kennedy said, “First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same…. Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset.”
Everything Kennedy insisted would not occur came to fruition. We now issue over a million permanent Green Cards annually, with the ethnic mix of the country changing so significantly that whites are projected to become a minority within 30 years.
Additionally, illegal immigration from Mexico began to increase during the 1970s and 80s. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law was a compromise to grant a one-time amnesty to approximately 1.5 million illegal aliens, while ramping up enforcement by mandating nationwide sanctions against employers of illegals. With massive fraud and abuse, 3 million illegal aliens received amnesty, while the enforcement provisions went unenforced.
Today, the post-9/11-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports there are approximately 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States, though some estimates are as a high as 20 million. Additionally, our government allows over one million permanent legal immigrants to enter the country and nearly as many temporary workers each year.
In the first decade of the 21st Century, illegal immigration has become an incredibly contentious issue. In 2006 and 2007 President George W. Bush pushed for so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” which like the 1986 law, promised amnesty combined with enforcement. Despite support from the established leadership of both political parties, populist conservative uprisings defeated the proposals. With federal laws continuing to go unenforced, the southwest border state of Arizona passed a number of laws to fight illegal immigration leading several other states to follow suit, while the Obama administration, in collaboration with the Mexican government and leftist organizations, sued Arizona.
Overall, U.S. government policy, under several presidential administrations and congresses under the control of both political parties, has failed to secure America’s southern border, to the detriment of our nation’s security and the safety of Americans across the country.
Crafting an immigration policy comes down to deciding a few simple questions: How many people should be permitted to enter the country, and how do we select them? How do we stop further illegal immigration? What should we do with the illegal population residing in this country?
In making these decisions, United States immigration policy must be primarily based on what is in the best interest of America’s citizens. This principle is taken for granted for almost all other issues. However, the debate on immigration often centers on what is best for foreigners rather than Americans. There are nearly 7 billion people in the world, 80% of whom live on 10 dollars a day or less. We can sympathize with their hardships, but our immigration policy cannot become a global anti-poverty program.
Our current immigration policy adversely affects American interests in numerous ways.
Islamic terrorists have taken advantage of virtually every aspect of our immigration system to threaten our national security. They have arrived in this country by sneaking across the border, on temporary visas, asylum applications, and have even received Green Cards. Some terrorist attacks such as the unsuccessful World Trade Center (WTC) parking garage bombing of 1993, nearly a decade prior to 9/11, was committed by mastermind Mahmud Abouhalima, who was legalized in the 1986 amnesty. Others, such as Taliban enemy combatant Yaser Hamdi, took advantage of the “anchor baby” loophole and claimed U.S. citizenship and legal protections because he was born in this country when his father was on a temporary visa.
Immigration also contributes to unemployment. According to the Census Bureau, approximately one in six workers in the country is foreign born, including 8 million illegal aliens. In spite of the 2008 recession, we issue work authorizations-both temporary and permanent-to 1.5 million legal foreign workers each year.
Immigration is swelling our already bloated deficit. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, illegal immigration costs taxpayers over 200 billion dollars a year. The Heritage Foundation calculated that the average low skilled immigrant household takes in 10,000 dollars more in benefits than it pays in taxes.
While immigrants once were taught English and to adopt American culture, the old melting pot ideal has been replaced by multiculturalism that undermines American culture and values. Finally, the government’s wink-and-nod attitude toward illegal immigration undermines respect for the rule of law.
America must secure its coastal and land borders, particularly its southwest border with Mexico, and craft a workable immigration system that promotes the rule of law, national security, and cultural cohesion, while protecting American workers and taxpayers.
Amnesty: Granting amnesty to the estimated 11-20 million illegal aliens undermines the most basic concepts of fairness and the rule of law that make America an exceptional nation. Past amnesties have been failures, and Americans overwhelmingly reject repeating our mistakes. As recently as 2004, then presidential candidate John Kerry called specifically for amnesty. Supporters of these policies, both Democrats and Republicans, have since learned that the majority of Americans oppose amnesty, and now use various euphemisms such as “comprehensive immigration reform,” and “path to citizenship” or “earned legalization” rather than amnesty. But regardless of what they call it, any immigration policy that allows those who came into this country illegally to live here legally, while others are left waiting in line, is ipso facto amnesty. This is patently unfair to those who are trying to obey the law and come here legally, as well as to American citizens. Under no circumstances should we grant another amnesty.
Secure Our Borders: According to the government’s General Accountability Office (GAO), only 44% of the border is under “operational control” and just 15% is fully sealed. Over half of all illegal immigrants came to this country by sneaking over our southern border. In addition to ballooning the illegal population, our unsecured borders also leave our country wide open to criminals, drug smugglers and terrorists. We should complete the border fence and deploy sufficient resources to make our border impregnable.
Remove Incentives: Illegal aliens respond rationally to incentives. Granting illegal immigrants benefits such as in-state college tuition, driver’s licenses and welfare sends them an unequivocal and clear message that they are welcome to our country, at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Most illegal aliens are here to work. While it is illegal to hire illegal aliens, approximately 8 million remain in the workforce. Removing the jobs magnet by mandating the E-Verify requirement will strongly discourage illegal immigration. Another major incentive is the policy of granting the children of illegal aliens automatic U.S. citizenship. This policy has never been mandated by either the Supreme Court or Congress, is based on a flawed interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and should be revoked.
States’ Rights: With the federal government utterly failing in its duty to enforce the laws, many states have filled the void with their own laws. Arizona’s SB 1070, which requires local law enforcement agents to check the status of suspected illegal aliens, is the most widely known. However, there are dozens of other laws passed by states and localities to discourage illegal immigration by denying government services to illegal aliens, cracking down on landlords and employers of illegal aliens, and preventing voter fraud. Unfortunately, both left-wing groups like the ACLU as well as the Obama administration have sued virtually every single state and locality that has passed these measures. The Supreme Court did uphold Arizona’s employer sanction laws, while many other cases are making their way up to the high court. State legislators should be encouraged to follow Arizona’s lead. The federal government should focus its attention on enforcing its own immigration laws rather than targeting states for picking up the slack.
On the Web
- Numbers USA: What’s the problem and who’s responsible?
- Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)
- Department of Homeland Security
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)