Immigration officers escort African migrant 370 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
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
Amnesty came. Enforcement never did.
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 baitand- 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
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
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,
(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
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 hi-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
hi-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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Charles Krauthammer’s email address is letters@
charleskrauthammer.com. (c) 2013,
The Washington Post Writers Group
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>