The Right Opinion

Sound and Fury of Immigration Debate

By Linda Chavez · Feb. 1, 2013

“Enforcement first” has become the mantra of conservatives opposed to comprehensive immigration. However, what opponents refuse to recognize is that illegal immigration is under better control today than at any point in the last half century. Last year, net immigration from Mexico was zero – as many immigrants (legal and illegal) left the United States as came here. The flow of illegal immigrants has plummeted in the last few years – down to the lowest level since the 1970s. What’s more, the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration since the Great Depression - including 450,000 last year.

We now spend more – nearly $18 billion dollars – on border enforcement than we do on all other federal policing programs combined. We have built 649 miles of border fencing and vehicle barriers (of the 652 miles mandated in the 2006 Security Fence Act). Plus we have put into place high-tech surveillance that was unthinkable in past, when proportionally many more illegal immigrants crossed our borders from Mexico. Before passage of the Bracero Program, a temporary visa system for agricultural workers in the post-World War II era, about a million illegal immigrants came into the U.S. This is the equivalent of 2 million illegal immigrants when adjusted for current population size.

The border with Mexico is more secure than it has ever been. So why not declare victory and move forward in reforming outdated laws that are largely unenforceable?

The most contentious issue facing lawmakers now is what to do about the 11 million illegal immigrants who currently reside in the U.S. Some Republicans, most prominently Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, who outlined a bipartisan plan with four Democrats this week, want to give legal status to those illegal immigrants so that they can remain here and work. While the specifics of legislation have yet to be ironed out, the proposal would require illegal immigrants to pay substantial fines, undergo background checks to prove they have not broken other laws and pay any back taxes owed. This is hardly “amnesty” as critics complain; it is applying a proportionate penalty for the commission of a civil offense.

Critics also claim giving legal status to those already residing her illegally – as President Reagan did in 1986 – will only encourage more people to come illegally. The argument sounds right given the number of illegal immigrants who have come and settled her since 1986. What critics don’t take into account, however, is the 1986 law was flawed from the beginning – and not because it didn’t call for stricter enforcement. The flaw is that it never allowed for immigration inflow to be based on the needs of the U.S. economy and to be driven by the market rather than federal bureaucrats.

Even worse, the employer sanctions put in place in the 1986 law have proven unenforceable – and not because evil employers are out there recruiting and exploiting illegal workers. The law requires every person who hires an individual to perform work on his or her behalf – including babysitting, cutting lawns or housecleaning – to collect and maintain information on the worker’s legal status, even if that person does only occasional, part-time work and is American-born.

Most individuals ignore the law (or at least don’t fill out the forms and keep them for at least one year after employment is terminated), though the government rarely goes after them. But employers, big and small, do so at their peril. They face civil and criminal prosecution that can amount to millions of dollars in fines. So employers collect the required data, forcing every prospective employee (including American citizens) to produce proof of eligibility to work. The result has been a mountain of bureaucratic red tape, which has also spawned a lucrative and dangerous new industry: identity fraud and the forging of documents for those who lack legal documents.

The best way to fix the problem of illegal immigration is to let the market decide how many people come each year. We already know roughly what the market has absorbed over the last twenty years or so, just look at the combined number of legal and illegal immigrants who came. The market, not tougher enforcement, is a far better regulator – and one that conservatives especially should embrace. But don’t expect logic or ideological consistency to dominate the debate when rhetoric and political opportunism have provided the sound and fury on this issue for decades.



Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Keeping tabs on millions of immigrants' work status, is a logistical nightmare! Here's an alternative idea---emmigrate and immigrate LEGALLY, through proper Customs and Immigration LAWS, already in place!!!

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8:37 AM

Jim in USA replied:

Good going Tod. And let's make paying taxes voluntary too.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 4:08 PM

Kurt.S in Missouri said:

Bravo, Mac in Az. Very well said. That 11 million immigrants BS is typical liberal name assignment to confuse the issue. If she wants to use a number, let her use a more accurate one.

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 9:45 AM

ripvanwinkle in Oklahoma said:

Ms. Chavez - We actually have no idea how many illegals currently cross our borders and how many are living in our country. In this case, estimates are actually guesses, not based on any type of sampling or analysis.

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

After reading this, I'm not sure why Ms. Chavez isn't helping Obama write his speeches on immigration. The border is secure? It's a joke, right?

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Tony in Texas said:

What part of illegal is hard to understand. The problem is these illegals tend to pursue their own groups interest, not become Americans. At best they will become Mexican-Americans. These hyphen-American groups don't care what the results outside their own bubble are. If they saw themselves as an American first they wouldn't be able to freely work against the interest of the nation for their own little group lowering the standards of this nation. How does American-Mexican sound?

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Dave in Harrisburg, PA said:

" Last year, net immigration from Mexico was zero -- as many immigrants (legal and illegal) left the United States as came here."
-Illegal immigration should be 100% negative - secure the border so that there's none coming in, and fire up the busses to send folks back home.

"So why not declare victory and move forward in reforming outdated laws that are largely unenforceable?"
-Better idea: Secure the border so that the existing laws might actually be enforceable.

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Dan Cunningham in New Mexico said:

What part of "Illegal" do you not understand? Nice try with the market thing they are still illegal! Nice try again, the promise of 87 was border and employment enforcement which did not happen!

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 1:06 PM

fred in oregon said:

whether or not Linda knows this, the MARKET and the immigrants she speaks of, are usually bringing loads of dope with them ,whether they want to or not. the mexican mob is very prolific at corercing the immigrents into doing their biding. letting nobody come in to our country makes more sence to me. of course that isnt going to happenn.
i am aware that many of the immigrents are good people, and just want to come here to prosper and be safe from the nightmare that is much of mexico.
i have no idea what the answer is, but i do know that there will be no change, not with this jerk in the whitr house, he needs their votes.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Jim in USA said:

The title is good. The rest is well criticized, if a bit rabidly over the top. But most of these arguments are nothing but distracting noise. How the Latinos vote will only matter as long as there IS a vote. I can imagine there having been a great debate on how to control the borders of Jonestown, with dear old Jim excitedly right in the middle of it. I sympathize with Linda, more than most here. Many, many, many of the Mexicans that come here are very fine people. Many are infinitely the moral betters of those for whom they labor. It's not all that shocking that Linda, being Hispanic, should wish for the best for them. And it's the Liberal solutions seem to have momentum. What's most likely to happen will gain the most support if it appears to offer a relief to a very public distress. You guys are all ticked because the Dems are holding all the winning cards and they know it. But here's the thing. The only reason is because the Republicans are pathetic on this question. The Dems won't secure the border because they see the demographic writing on the wall and they're vote whores pure and simple. Why haven't the Republicans solved this when they've had the opportunity? Do you think there might have been a lingering stench of lobbyists in the Chambers when the bills that would limit cheap labor were being shuffled off into oblivion? Our problems are solvable with the wisdom of any sixth grader. The one thing Linda has right is that the biggest piece of the puzzle lies in market solutions. The other thing she has right is that we don't need to. or have the moral right to, beat up on the Mexicans. There has been a very conscious creation of incentives for cheap labor to slip across the border. How really far amiss is the perception that the Republicans are as guilty of money grubbing as the Democrats are guilty of power grubbing?

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Jim in USA said:

1) Levy truly onorous fines against employers hiring Illegals. Offer 20% of it to the whistle-blower.
2) Let Employers import and hire as many LEGAL workers from the south as they request through a temporary Visa program.
3) Restrict ALL taxpayer provided benefits to actual Citizens. Eveveryone else pays their own way.
4) Put an immediate end to the Baby Anchor Racket and the Family Chain indulgence. If you want them prove you can support them. Everyone who is not born of a Citizen has to start from scratch.
5) Restrict Permanent Status Residency to Non-Muslins who have something to offer that we need and who are sponsored by someone with skin in the game.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 3:49 PM

Jim in USA said:

How soon can we expect anything rational from our elected officials? The Senate just approved John Kerry as Secratary of State. Only three Republicans voted against him. So you tell me.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 3:52 PM