The Right Opinion

Immigration: Getting It Right

By Charles Krauthammer · Feb. 1, 2013

WASHINGTON – Immigration reform is coming. Let's get it right. What counts as getting it wrong? The 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, signed by President Reagan. It granted amnesty to the then 3 million illegal immigrants and promised border enforcement.

Amnesty came. Enforcement never did. Reagan was swindled.

Americans are a generous people. They don't want 11 million souls living in fear among them. They would willingly, indeed overwhelmingly, support amnesty – as long as it is the last. They don't want another Simpson-Mazzoli, another bait-and-switch that lets in another 11 million illegal immigrants – and brings us back where we began.

There is an obvious solution: enforcement first. Hence the attraction of the bipartisan Senate deal reached by the Gang of Eight, led by Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republicans John McCain and Marco Rubio. It is said to feature border enforcement first, then legalization.

Not quite.

It is true that only after some commission deems the border under control do illegal immigrants become eligible for green cards and, ultimately, citizenship. But this is misleading because on the day the president signs the reform – long before enforcement even begins – the 11 million are immediately subject to instant legalization.

It is cleverly called “probationary” legal status. But the adjective is meaningless. It grants the right to live and work here openly. Once granted, it will never be revoked. Consider:

Imagine that the border-control commission reports at some point that the border is not yet secure. Do you think for a moment that the 11 million will have their “probationary” legalization revoked? These are people who, in good faith, would have come out of the shadows, registered with the feds and disclosed their domicile and place of work. Do you think the authorities will have them fired, arrested and deported?

Inconceivable. “Probationary” in this context means, in reality, “forever.” (Unless, of course, you commit some crime.) It means they can stay and work here freely for the rest of their lives.

True, they must await the “enforcement trigger” before they can apply for green cards. But they already have the functional equivalent of a green card. They got that on Day One. That matters more than anything to those living here illegally: the right to continue living here without fear. Forever. That's the very essence of amnesty.

And all this happens before the first scintilla of extra enforcement takes place. Which brings us to the second problem. What does this extra enforcement consist of?

When I heard McCain talk about (among other measures) new high-tech border control with advanced radar and drones, my heart sank. We've been here. In 2006, Congress threw a ton of money at a high-tech fence. Five years, $1 billion and a pathetic 53 (out of 2,000) miles later, Janet Napolitano canceled the program as a complete failure.

That was predictable. And some of us predicting it were pleading for something infinitely cheaper and simpler: a prosaic, low-tech fence. Of the kind built near San Diego (triple-layered) that resulted in an astounding 92 percent drop in apprehensions. Like the Israeli fence built along the West Bank that has reduced terrorist infiltration to practically zero.

There's a reason people have been building fences for, oh, 5,000 years. They work.

The current Senate proposal must be improved, either in the Senate or by the House. It's not complicated. Build the damn fence. And give “probationary legal status” to the 11 million – not on the day the bill is signed but on the day the fence is completed. Have the president drive in the golden fence post at Promontory Point II and sign the amnesty right there. Great photo op.

With the sequencing – and thus the incentives – so properly aligned, I assure you the fence will go up with amazing alacrity. As it should. The point is not to punish anyone or to make things harder, but to ensure we don't have to do this again – agonizing over the next 11 million cruelly living here in the shadows.

I know many Republicans are coming over to immigration reform because of the 2012 election results. Fine. I've been advocating this for seven years (“First a wall – then amnesty,” April 7, 2006). Welcome aboard.

But remember: Enforcement followed by legalization is not just the political thing to do. It is the right thing to do – an act both of national generosity and national interest. It has long been the best answer to the immigration conundrum. It remains so.

© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

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12 Comments

Rick in Columbia, MO said:

Charles you are right on as usual, but do you think our federal government can even correctly build a fence? Seems to me the right thing to get it done would be to get the hell out of the way and let the states build a low tech fence. Of course, it does pertain to national security so maybe the feds could shoulder some of the cost. Putting the federal government in charge of anything assures failure. Maybe the DOJ could quit harassing governors for trying to solve their own problems, and just say "hey thanks for the help".

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 2:14 PM

Jay in FL said:

Charles is correct. Also, don't forget that the President has already stood at the border and lied about it to the American people.

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 4:52 PM

JAC in Texas said:

"It means they can stay and work here freely for the rest of their lives." Charles: you forgot they will stay and vote Democratic for the rest of their lives, also.

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 5:50 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

First the wall. Must have less than 100 attempted crossings in order to deemed "effective border control".

Once the Border is Closed - offer the "PLEA BARGAIN" for 90 days only for those already here illegally. Come forward, register, background check, arrange to pay fines and back taxes, get a 12 month work visa. That is all.

Criminals will not come forward. Reconquistas will not come forward. After 90 days, when they are found here without having registered for the 'Plea Bargain" - they will be arrested, fingerprinted and deported, never to return to the US. CARROT and a STICK.

This must be an INDIVIDUAL process not a blanket declaration of "legality" by Chuck Schumer.

We must close the Border and we must deal with those here illegally. There is a right way and this is it.

PS - My wife is from Scotland and spent ten years and ten thousand dollars to get a green card, then citizenship. Her brother in Scotland has now been waiting for 5 years. I am not willing to give away "legality", but we must deal with these people - after we BUILD THE FENCE.

Friday, February 1, 2013 at 11:13 PM

Richard Wheeler in Durant said:

Mr. Krauthammer. I agree in principle , the only problem is these new immigrants unlike the millions who came before(including the 3 million in 86) tried to blend in and become american's even before being granted amnesty. The ones here now seem to neither want or care about learning about this country or it's way's: only in the money they want us to learn spanish and to have it taught is schools instead of the other way around.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 3:28 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

"What's that, folks, you wish to build a fence or great wall? Who is the G.C.?If a private contractor builds, you r talking about $12,000,000 dollars. If Unkle Sam builds, you r talking about $3,000,000,000,000,000.00, just for the Enviro impact study, to make sure no scorpions, or desert rats, have their eco system disturbed!!'

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 7:34 AM

WDP in Boerne, Texas said:

Um, generous?? Amnesty rewards law breakers and is a slap in the face to those who get in line to immigrate legally. My wife petitioned her younger sister in 1989. We're still waiting.... In terms of a fence, we already have one. It's called Obamanomics. Net immigration from Mexico since he's become President has been negative. People are going home. After his second term, Mexico could be the one with the illegal immigration problem along the Rio Grande.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 2:05 PM

Orf in Pittsburgh replied:

Right on, WDP! Charlie's K-hammer would beat the Republican party right out of existence, if we do it his way or that of the Rubio gang. Giving amnesty to the 11+ million illegals will only pave the way the next 11+ million, all of whom will become Dumbocrat voters. Why are the Republicans trying to self-destruct? The party supposed to uphold the Rule of Law is now making exceptions for illegal immigrants.

Be wary of those who offer only one or two choices to reach some goal. Almost always there are more and better choices. In this case a better choice would be first to start building the fence as Krauty says, while deporting the illegals at the same time. We cannot safely ignore the Rule of Law in favor of the rule of man. What was it he said? We are a generous or kind people, so we will feel better if we just overlook the law-breakers. Is that fair to the ones who want to come here legally?

They ridiculed Romney for his idea of self-deportation. WDP shows how Obozo is doing it unintentionally.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Jim in USA said:

Sorry, but the fence is a joke.

Also, as our friend Mac in AZ keeps pointing out, the 11 million number is a 10 year old lie. You are willfully omitting the "Anchor Babies" who aren't counted because they have been deemed automatically "legal". Mac suggests that amounts to another 30 million. Whatever it is, it's huge. Whoever has this discussion and tries to sweep that elephant under the carpet is a liar.

In a land of laws a fence should be unnecessary.

First. Quit beating up on the Mexicans. They are here illegally because they have been implicitlty invited to come here. There has been every opportunity to institute rational policy that would discourage their coming. Lobbyists on both sides have succeeded again and again, and seen to the continuation of the status quo, whether for cheap labor or for political gain. So we offer a poor man a job and then punch him in the face when he walks in the door. It's not his fault. Don't offer him a job. Then he won't come in.

So what do we do instead. Wouldn't it be a lot more fair to beat up on the people that are causing this? Isn't it really the employers fault? Why don't we just fine the stew out of anyone hiring illegals? How about $10,000 a head? Hire 10 and we'll fine you $100,000. If you fight it, and lose, you pay legal costs as well. Why not offer 20% of the fines to the whistle blower. Then wed have to create a few special courts to handle the volume.

Ha! We fixed those mean old Capitalists, didn't we? But here's a News Flash, folks. Businesses aren't only hiring Illegals because they're cheap. It's rather a messy deal and they'd rather not. But they do it because they have to. If the competition does or if you can't get anyone else, then you have to. And believe me they don't always work cheaper. Hard work can command a good price and there is really a lot of them who work MUCH harder and get a lot more done than their lazy gringo hippy counterparts who come in with half a buzz on and an attitude of pure resentment that anyone would dare expect them to lift a finger. We were once an agrarian society. We once knew how to work hard in the sun. Mexico still is a largely agrarian society. And one that's outgrowing us currently, under a much hotter sun. They still know how to work. There are employers who will go to the moon to try and get some of their guys the right legal papers.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 6:11 PM

Jim in USA said:

The way to stop illegal immigration is to allow employers to invite all the LEGAL workers they want from the south on a temporary Visa program.
Howhard is this. If the Legals compete with the illegals they will win. If the legals are easy to get and they illegals are really really a costly risk, no one will hire the illegals.
Next...we must end the Anchor Baby racket. Retro-actively. To be a citizen you must be born of a citizen. Otherwise you must go through the whole legal process to become a citizen. Period.
Next...There is no family chain nonsense. If someone comes here legally, the immediate family can come when they prove they can support them.
Next...All benefits that are taxpayer funded are for Citizens only. Period.
Next...any city acting as a Sanctuary is denied all Federal Funds.
Hasta la Vista Baby!

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 6:11 PM

Jim in USA said:

Next...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 6:20 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Jim, we don't count the kids of illegals born here, because we foolishly grant them birthright citizenship. That should be in this this or any immigration bill. NO BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP. No other country in the world does it.

Lets close the border. Then offer a 90 day time limited opportunity to come forward and register as an admitted illegal and accept a "plea Bargain" with fines and back taxes. You can be that criminals and those Reconquistas whop think they own the place already will not come forward. After 90 days, there will be no sympathey for those found here without registration. Fingerprint, deport and never get another chance. to return.

I do not like any of this.... but we must do something. I am also for fining the people who hire illegals. After 90 days that will be a lot easier.

This must be an individual "plea bargain" process. No blanket declaration of immediate or probational legality. Close the border - start the 90 day registration, and then start deporting the non-compliant.

We will start getting income tax, ID's and contributions to SS and Medicare from those who now pay only sales tax. Wouldn't that be nice.

Let's be real -- Schumer wants to declare them all legal, and we must not allow that. But if we take the lead - as Rubio is trying to do - and make this a Plea Bargain deal for a limited work visa, and get at then end of the line for a green card if you can get a sponsor, then I am willing to give them 90 days to register.

The border must be closed effectively before any of this can be done.

Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 6:49 PM