Fix Immigration and Secure Borders

The current immigration debate makes no sense to anyone except elites in business and government.

America welcomes one million legal immigrants every year. We are generous and ask merely that those who wish to settle here obey the law.

Yet those laws and the mechanisms meant to enforce them are clearly broken. Some who follow all the rules, like bright foreign students educated at American universities, are forced to take their talents back to their home countries due to a lack of high-skilled visas. The border has never before been so clearly porous, and our existing legal institutions have never before appeared so ill-equipped to address a flood of illegal migration.

The solution should be obvious: border security, targeted reforms to address pressing needs for high-skilled workers, and simplification of the process for legal immigration. Yet these common-sense solutions have all been held hostage by Washington to the provision that is both most controversial and most important to various electoral calculations and donor interests: amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Few Americans see amnesty as the solution to the problems they face making ends meet or providing opportunity to their families, but that matters little. Amnesty is the chief concern for those with the power to influence the policy debate: the operatives on both sides of the aisle who are convinced that amnesty alone is the political silver bullet of immigration reform. So long as the consultant class sets the terms of the immigration debate, real reform will be impossible.

Giving priority to those who come here in violation of our laws is a grave injustice to those who have waited in line and abided by them. The core problem with amnesty is clear: It just encourages more illegal immigrants in hopes of future amnesties. We’ve done this before, and it hasn’t solved the problem.

Moreover, it sends a clear signal to other migrants that the United States ignores its national security interests and the rule of law and will not hold them accountable for their actions. We know this from experience: The amnesty passed in 1986 only aggravated the problem it aimed to solve. Partial, informal amnesty by President Obama has provoked the current border crisis. Legalization would impose high costs on taxpayers at both the federal and state levels. From a policy perspective, there is practically no justification for it. It is justifiable only by appeal to politics, emotion, or financial interest.

Conservatives are ready and willing to pass reforms to strengthen the integrity of our border. We must provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard with the targeted resources needed to enforce the law on the border. Given the nature of the current border crisis, it is also crucial that the hearing process for Central American migrants be revised to prevent immigrants from slipping into the shadows after release from official custody. More important, the central magnet for the new flood of immigrants—President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum—must be rescinded.

Conservatives are ready for a variety of reforms in the legal process: an increased H-1B visa cap to help attract and retain talent from across the globe; pilot programs for temporary workers to allow experimentation to meet other discrete labor market needs without causing a massive flood of low-skilled foreign labor or committing the United States to provision of unaffordable welfare assistance to foreigners engaging with our economy; a simplified visa process and a reformed Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Not a single one of these reforms necessitates amnesty, and all should be achievable in the next Congress, once the threat of conference with the Gang of Eight Senate amnesty bill is removed.

America has always been a land of opportunity, but American economic success must be undergirded by respect for the rule of law and a primary commitment to the interests of our own political community. Immigration reform that is done properly can be perfectly consistent both with our legacy and with that commitment.

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