Alexander's Column

Immigration Policy: A national security imperative

By Mark Alexander · Dec. 10, 2004

“The bosom of America is open to receive … the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” –George Washington

(This is the second in a series of essays on vital national policy issues, which must be addressed by the Bush administration and Congress).

In a day when political issues are so neatly dichotomous, left and right, down the line, immigration policy has both fervent advocates and opponents on both sides of the political divide. The Senate's passage of a much-ballyhooed intelligence-reform bill this week, now certain to be signed into law by President Bush, requires a resolution on whether trade or security will dominate immigration policy.

Immigration, now more than ever before, has become a national-security issue. We live in a world in which asymmetric threats – namely, Islamist terror networks – can project considerable threat by way of WMD in great disproportion to geo-political influence of their state sponsors. Conventional powers – namely, nation-states such as ours – are by their very nature more vulnerable to these asymmetric threats than they are to other overtly hostile nation-states. And as the leader of the free world and its Western values, the United States stands in strategic and ideological opposition to the goals of these Jihadi terrorists. We are thus their prime target, and a soft one at that, as demonstrated on September 11, 2001. And yet our borders remain wide open to those who would destroy us.

First and foremost, dealing with immigration begins not with reform, but with the enforcement of existing immigration law. Contrary to what many appear to believe, illegal immigration is still, well, illegal. That is why we believe the Bush administration's chief shortcoming has been its failure to enforce existing immigration law – not unlike every other administration since WWII. In some ways, the new intelligence-reform bill picks up the slack – but much more remains to be done.

For starters, the bill establishes a Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center (although one had already been enacted by the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice). The Center will streamline intelligence on human-smuggling activities across our borders in coordination with the newly formed national counterterrorism center. The bill also increases the U.S. Border Patrol “by no less than 2,000 [agents]” and increases the number of immigration investigators “by not less than 800.” In another important step, spaces for immigrants detained for deportation are to increase by “no less than 8,000.”

A good start, to be sure – but far from enough. Absent from the bill are measures pushed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner that would have banned states from issuing drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, as well as provisions making it easier to deport illegal immigrants without judicial review. Congressional negotiators promised to deal with these issues later – the only problem being the intentional lack of precision in such Capitol Hill staples as “promise” and “later.”

Speaking of the need for further security-based immigration reform, Sensenbrenner said, “We're doing this to stop the next terrorists and to take necessary steps to protect the American people. The bill will address the three most critical elements, including real driver's license reform, tightening our asylum laws to stop exploitation by terrorists, and finishing the fence on California's border with Mexico. … We will ensure that terrorists like Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, no longer receive a free pass to move around America's communities when they show up at our gates claiming asylum.” Mr. Sensenbrenner went further, adding, “We will end judge-imposed presumptions that benefit suspected terrorists so that we stop providing a safe haven to some of the worst people on earth.”

As far as immigration reform goes, the administration's plan, shelved since the events of September 11, 2001, does not represent an “amnesty” arrangement for illegal immigrants, as many have suggested. Complaints over this proposal – equally from the political left and right – have at times bordered on xenophobia. As this column contended at its inception, the President's immigration-reform legislation – aimed at matching willing workers with willing employers in circumstances where no Americans are available or willing to do the job – is a legitimate solution to a growing problem. Here, we applaud the President's willingness to take on a hot-button issue from which previous administrations have cowered.

Further, Mr. Bush's guest-worker program is not a compromise. Rather, it represents an effort to let the free market, not government regulation, lead the way. By and large, immigrants come to this country for the opportunities it holds. Further, they are willing to do work that other Americans (generally descendants of immigrants themselves) are no longer willing to perform. Serving much the same function as the much belied and belittled phenomenon of outsourcing, the presence of such immigrant labor frees up the American labor force to be more productive, creating greater wealth and, yes, greater job growth.

For those under the impression that a five- to six-percent unemployment rate is somehow bad, or that immigrant labor is somehow responsible, kindly note that such a rate is generally considered by both conservative and liberal economists to be the “natural rate of unemployment” for our country. It's the preferred rate for keeping inflation in check and the economy from overheating. (Remember the super-low unemployment rates during the Clinton boom years? Remember the bust that followed the boom?) Despite the fear-mongering of the mainstream media, five- to six-percent unemployment is an indisputably good thing.

The problem is not that the administration's plan attempts to deal with border control by addressing economic issues, but that it attempts to address economic issues first. In the context of our war with Jihadistan, we contend that border control must come first; only then can economic and labor concerns be responsibly addressed.

Indeed, only when our borders are secure can we truly take account of the free market's need for the free flow of labor. When we meet the market's labor needs, we facilitate the processes that create wealth – processes that we do not fully understand. What we do know is that free-market capitalism undergirds democracy, and democracy promotes free-market capitalism. Consequently, when the free markets are allowed to function optimally, they promote stability across the globe. And global stability – as we know all too well – is a critical component of national security.

Another major obstacle to true market reform is the corrupting influence of the welfare state. Not only are immigrants enticed by federal largesse to join the free lunch club, but the entitlement mentality that welfare breeds very often kills the strong work ethic that immigrants have traditionally brought with them. Although illegal immigrants are ineligible for welfare benefits, our states, cities, schools and other government agencies are simply unwilling to say no. This issue too must be resolved – which leads us back to our assertion that the enforcement of existing laws is the surest reform of all.

Our Latin American neighbors should support us in this endeavor, for the benefit of all concerned, for if the rewards of economic integration are to be aided by the free flow of labor, then all parties must play by the rules.

As argued in this column many times before, we choose to fight the terrorists abroad so that we don't have to fight them here at home. If our borders remain porous, our ports of entry a free-for-all, and enforcement and reform ineffectual, then our pre-emptive approach to terrorism is all for naught. Only when we begin to assess immigration for what it really is – a grave matter of national security – can we begin to secure the home front.

Briefly put, we believe President Bush will do well to remember that his mandate is largely one of national security – and that national security begins at home. Border security must trump economic and trade interest in immigration policy.

(As promised, next week in Patriot #04-50, we will take on tax reform.)

Quote of the week…

“The very nature of the principles upon which the United States is established encourages immigration and promotes the transformation of those immigrants into Americans – welcoming newcomers while insisting that they learn and embrace America's civic culture and political institutions, thereby forming one nation from many peoples. The result has been a strengthening of our social capital, a deepening of our national patriotism, and a continuing expansion of our general economy. America has been good for immigrants, and immigrants have been good for America. … Over the past several decades, though, immigration policy has become increasingly confused and unfocused. Today, immigration policy is mostly debated at the extremes, between those who want no immigrants and those who want no borders, implying that immigration is an all-or-nothing proposition. … A better approach is for policymakers to step back from the politics and policies of the moment and take the time to deliberate and develop a clear, com-prehensive, meaningful, and long-term policy concerning immigration, naturalization, and citizenship that is consistent with the core principles, best traditions, and highest ideals of the United States.” –Edwin Meese III and Matthew Spalding, The Heritage Foundation

Open query…

“Americans deserve a complete bill so that we can prevent another 9/11 from occurring. Border security and immigration reform are vital components of our homeland-security efforts, so why are they not included in this legislation? The time to address these issues is now, not next month, not next year. Hollow promises of future consideration are just that – hollow promises. I said two weeks ago that the Senate was hell-bent on ensuring that illegal aliens can receive drivers' licenses, regardless of the security concerns. This Sept. 10th mentality in a post-Sept. 11th world is unwise and among those I intend to rectify next year.” –Rep. James Sensenbrenner

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