Immigration reform




This memo consolidates a three-blog series posted in June 2013.  At that time, a major immigration reform bill was being considered by the US Senate.  The content has been modestly edited, e.g., by adjusting titles of the three sections.




The immigration system is broken


Senate bill wouldn’t stop illegal immigration


SAFE suggests another approach



6/10/13 – The immigration system is broken


The R word does not appear in the title of the “gang of 8” bill (S-744, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,, which is currently making its way through the US Senate.  But the formal title is long and cumbersome, and the proposal has been commonly referred to as immigration reform.


To merit a “reform” label, S-744 should show solid promise of ameliorating the social and economic problems that have been created by allowing at least 11 million illegal immigrants to relocate to the United States with more on the way.  Proponents claim this requirement is satisfied; the bill’s detractors say major changes are needed. 


There are two key questions. (1) Should a “path to citizenship” (aka amnesty) be granted immediately, as is contemplated, or must the border be secured first? (2) Would the proposed changes add trillions of dollars to future deficits, or are claims to this effect based on a misunderstanding of the economic implications? 


Even assuming S-744 is well conceived, can it attract the necessary political support?  We think this bill will pass in the Senate, but quite possibly without enough Republican support to gain traction in the House.  Some observers question, moreover, whether Democrats really want to strike a deal versus preserving illegal immigration as an issue for future elections.


Here is how the president summed up the case for the Senate bill in his most recent weekly address.   Time to pass commonsense immigration reform, 6/8/13.


That’s what immigration reform looks like.  Smarter enforcement.  A pathway to earned citizenship.  Improvements to the legal immigration system.   They’re all commonsense steps.  They’ve got broad support – from Republicans and Democrats, CEOs and labor leaders, law enforcement and clergy.  So there is no reason that Congress can’t work together to send a bill to my desk by the end of the summer. 


This entry will focus on what the objectives of immigration reform should be, beginning with some basic information about illegal immigrants.  We’ll review and assess the Senate bill next week.


By the numbers – How many illegal immigrants are in this country?  The official figure is 11+ million, with a slight decline between 2010 and 20ll.  Number of illegal immigrants in US is stable: DHS, Reuters, 3/24/12.


Noting that the number of illegal immigrants was higher than thought before the 1986 amnesty, some observers have questioned the methodology for current estimates. See, e.g., “Just how many illegal aliens are in the United States?” David Gibson,, 8/27/09.


Washington arbitrarily estimates that every year since 1986, a half million illegal aliens take up residence in this country, either by over-staying their visa or by crossing into this country illegally. Additionally, they believe that the one million illegal aliens who did not qualify for the 1986 Amnesty (many were criminals), simply stayed anyway.  When you multiply a half million by 22 years, then add the additional million criminal aliens to the total, you have 12 million illegal aliens.


Perhaps, but the continuation that a realistic estimate would be “much closer to 60-70 million” lacks credibility at this point. Only 10 million illegal immigrants were counted in the 2010 census, despite a concerted (and controversial) effort to include them in the national headcount. Illegal immigrants factor into 2010 census results, congressional makeup, Fox News, 12/21/10. Although some undercounting probably occurred in the census, the 11+ million estimate appears to be in the ballpark.


According to the Department of Homeland Security, border security has been beefed up over the years – with a resultant reduction in the inflow of illegal immigrants.  Border security results, downloaded 6/10/13, DHS.


• Along the Southwest border, DHS has increased the number of boots on the ground from approximately 9,100 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 18,500 today.  CBP now screens 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons, drugs, and cash, has expanded Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) coverage to the entire Southwest border and completed 651 miles of fencing.

• Illegal immigration attempts, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, have decreased 53 percent in the past three years, and are less than one third of what they were at their peak.


Other sources say, however, that an improving US economy and the hope of arriving in time to benefit from the proposed immigration reset have caused a surge in unauthorized border crossings.  Illegal immigration still on the rise, Katie Pavlich,, 5/13/13.


Apprehensions in the Tucson Sector - the busiest section of the border - are down 1 percent so far this year to 64,514. But [in] the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, arrests are up 53 percent to 59,147. Apprehensions are used as an indicator of how many people are crossing into the United States.  Most of the recent growth in apprehensions is due to more Central Americans attempting to cross, unofficial data shows.


By the way, DHS only reports the number of apprehensions.  One might think other metrics should also be considered in evaluating the success of enforcement efforts. Managing illegal immigration to the United States; How effective is enforcement? Bryan Roberts et al., Council on Foreign Relations, May 2013.


U.S. enforcement has likely discouraged illegal entry. However, such basic questions as the apprehension rate for unauthorized crossers or the estimated number of successful illegal entries cannot be answered simply by counting arrest totals.


Based on the best information available, about one out of two would-be immigrants is still getting through.  An 85% effectiveness rate claimed by one DHS official in recent congressional testimony (responding to a question from Senator Tom Carper) seems highly improbable.  What is the real number of illegal border crossings?  Byron York, Washington Examiner, 5/6/13.


What changes are needed – OK, let’s say there are 11 million illegal immigrants – half a million new arrivals every year – and some degree of attrition.  The illegal immigrant population should grow over time, but perhaps not very rapidly.  Is this a problem, and if so why?


The uncertain status of illegal immigrants is not a comfortable situation for them.  Yes, they chose to bypass the legal immigration system (reportedly not easy to navigate), but it would be nice to see their status legalized so they can “come out of the shadows.” 


For the United States and its current citizens, some level of immigration seems desirable, but there is a limit to how many would-be immigrants can be admitted, find productive jobs, and be assimilated.  Also, the uncontrolled influx of people across our borders could mask the arrival of terrorists and criminals. 


Consider this example of the drawbacks of open immigration policies; it’s from a prosperous country that is generally considered well run. Stockholm riots leave Sweden’s dream of perfect society up in smoke, Colin Husby, UK Telegraph, 5/25/13.


This weekend, after six consecutive nights of rioting, Mr. Mohammed was not the only one questioning the Swedish social model's preference for the carrot over the stick. Many Swedes were left asking why a country that prides itself on a generous welfare state, liberal social attitudes and a welcoming attitude towards immigrants should ever have race riots in the first place.


One would hope new arrivals in this country are not coming here to take advantage of US welfare programs, but it may be hard (if not impossible) to treat them as second-class residents and deny coverage. Should US taxpayers be expected to pick up the resulting tab for healthcare benefits, food stamps, disability, and eventually retirement benefits? 


A leading conservative think tank has concluded that the proposed immigration overhaul would produce trillions of dollars in net future costs.  The fiscal cost of unlawful immigrants and amnesty to the US taxpayer, Robert Rector & Jason Richwine, Heritage Foundation, 5/6/13.


Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion. (All figures are in constant 2010 dollars.) This should be considered a minimum estimate. It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates significantly the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.


Other analysts reject the Heritage view as one-sided, saying new arrivals can become productive members of society and have a positive economic impact. Fox News, 5/6/13.


• Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said the Heritage study ignores key factors like the possibility of illegal immigrants moving up the economic ladder. "There's no upward mobility," he told "They're frozen" in low-paying jobs. 

Stephen Moore, an economist and Wall Street Journal writer, said many economists challenge the notion that immigrants are a net cost to the country. *** "You've got to look at both sides of the equation," Moore said. "Yes, the immigrants will use benefits, no question about that, but as they become more productive citizens and they come out of the shadows, a lot of economists -- myself included -- think they'll become more productive and they'll pay more taxes." He noted many immigrants are entrepreneurial, starting businesses that grow the economy. 


A sharp critique came from the Cato Institute, which has been supportive of an immigration overhaul.  Not only is the Heritage methodology “depressingly static,” says Alex Nowrasteh, but it posits the US would benefit if all the illegal immigrants that are here were forced to leave.  Wrong!  Based on an earlier study, (1) “immigration reform would increase US GDP by $1.5 trillion in the ten years after enactment, while (2) “the removal or exit of all unauthorized immigrants” would result in “a $2.6 trillion decrease in estimated GDP growth over the next decade.”   Heritage’s flawed immigration analysis, 5/7/13.


Chris Edwards of Cato characterizes the Heritage study as a useful discussion of the excessive ambit of the welfare state for the general population, immigrants and long-time residents alike.  Heritage immigration study and government spending,, 5/13/13.


The Heritage study is sparking a debate about what type of immigration reform the nation should have. But hopefully, it will also spur more discussion about the massive size of the American welfare state. Immigration is partly, or mainly, such a contentious issue because we have such a huge welfare state.


Another view is that Heritage is trying to lock the barn door after the horse has been stolen.  Under existing law, says Robert Lynch of the Center for American Progress, illegal immigrants and their children will be able to qualify for a large portion of the benefits included in Heritage’s $6.3 trillion net cost estimate whether their residency is legalized or not. Illegal aliens already eligible for retirement programs, says Heritage Foundation critic, Daily Caller, 5/29/13.


With all due respect to Heritage and the fine work they do, we agree with the other side.  The illegal immigrants now in the country are not going away, and it would be impractical (if not immoral) to deprive them – on a long-term basis – of benefits that their counterparts in the general population enjoy. 


The view suggested comes perilously close to viewing human beings (except for the social elite) as an economic liability, which is somewhat analogous to viewing population growth as a threat and being irrationally invested in alternative energy sources and reducing the human race’s ecological footprint.  For reasons previously suggested, we reject the sustainability concept. Don’t panic about sea level rise, point D (a hidden agenda?), Blog (8/27/12).


Consider this website, for example, which espouses an all-encompassing vision of “sustainability” that would govern all aspects of human existence.  Someone would presumably have to run the show, but that part does not seem to be spelled out.  Scary!


Far be it from SAFE to dismiss concerns about the cost of welfare benefits, but the proper way to address such concerns is to restructure the programs – as we have proposed repeatedly – rather than attempting to maintain a class of US residents who cannot access them.


Still, there is no blinking the fact that welfare benefits can have the effect of supporting immigrants who then turn around and commit horrifying acts.  Consider the Tsarnaev family, which received over $100,000 in taxpayer-funded assistance over a 10-year period.  Boston bombers received welfare benefits, Rachel Sheffield, Heritage, 5/2/13.


So what’s the secret for a Goldilocks immigration system – not too big or liberal, not too small or stingy, but just right?  We don’t claim to have a definitive answer, but that’s what this country should be looking for to replace the hybrid (stringent legal/ tolerated illegal) system that is currently in effect.



6/17/13 – The Senate bill wouldn’t stop illegal immigration


Having concluded that the immigration system is in urgent need of repair, let’s turn to the details of the bill that has been proposed to fix it.


It’s said that S. 744 is a bipartisan proposal, and technically that’s true.  Four Democratic senators (Michael Bennet, CO; Dick Durbin, IL; Robert Menendez, NJ; and Chuck Schumer, NY) and four Republican senators (Jeff Flake, AZ; Lindsey Graham, SC; John McCain, AZ; and Marco Rubio, FL) – aka “the gang of 8” – were responsible for drafting the bill and are now shepherding it through the Senate.   


Envisioning millions of new voters who would be inclined to vote for their party, Democrats are solidly in support of the proposal.  The debate has been mainly on the Republican side of the aisle. 


Proponents say S. 744 would represent an improvement over the status quo and is likely the best deal we can get.  Critics say it would work out like the 1986 amnesty bill, i.e., authorize the naturalization of millions of illegal immigrants without fixing the problem.


Our analysis and conclusions follow.


Background - After clearing the Judiciary Committee, S. 744 was taken up by the full Senate last week.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called for its passage by the July 4th recess.  Senate vote[s] to begin debate on comprehensive immigration reform bill, Alexis Levinson, Daily Caller, 6/11/13.


For the text of this 1,000+ pages opus and related documents, here’s the search page from the Library of Congress (Thomas). (select bill number, enter S-744, download PDF).


The bill is loaded with verbiage about securing the borders and ensuring compliance with US laws governing immigration. See, e.g., Section 2, Congressional findings.    It is also stated, however, that our nation was “founded, built and sustained by immigrants” and needs to establish “a coherent and just system for integrating those who seek to join American society.”


A “conservative plan” – It has been claimed that S. 744 would regularize the status of unauthorized residents in this country, without giving them any special breaks, and put a stop to illegal immigration.  Witness this video (1 minute), with Senator Marco Rubio and an off-screen narrator reciting poll-tested (no doubt) talking points (partial extract below).


Today we have de facto amnesty – conservative leaders have a plan – toughest enforcement measures in US history – no federal benefits or giveaways – illegal immigrants must pass background checks, prove they are gainfully employed, pay registration fee and a fine – support conservative immigration reform.


Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg will reportedly provide “seven figures” funding to Americans For A Conservative Direction (the sponsor of this ad and several like it).  Mark Zuckerberg’s “conservative” pitch for immigration reform, Jon Terbush, The Week, 4/24/13.


Board members are Haley Barbour (former governor of Mississippi), Joel Kaplan (Vice President of US Public Policy at Facebook), and three GOP consultants. (We’d love to see the reaction if a company owned by the Koch Brothers created a VP of US Public Policy position.)  AFACD website,


The foregoing pitch is one-sided, if not outright deceptive. Here are some points that are ignored or minimized.


1. The bill does not provide for securing the border first.  As Senator Rubio has made clear in other statements, the status of illegal immigrants who are already in this country (and arrived before the end of 2011) would be addressed promptly.  In immigration reform, legalization comes first – it is not conditional, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 6/10/13.


In most of his public appeals for the Gang of Eight bill, Rubio has stressed its enforcement provisions, saying that border security must come before immigrants are granted legal permanent resident status. What he has not stressed so much is the fact that the bill would legalize the 11 million almost immediately, after they have passed background checks and paid some sort of fine. That would happen before any new security measures are completed, or even begun.


Some Republicans remember going along with a 1986 amnesty bill in reliance on assurances that the border would be secured afterwards.  This did not happen, and now the illegal immigrant problem is nearly four times as big as before.  Lessons of 1986 amnesty loom in immigration debate, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 6/10/13.


The eight senators who wrote this year’s bill say they have corrected the mistakes of [the 1986] law, which President Reagan signed and which granted citizenship rights to 3 million people, including many who may have obtained citizenship by fraud. But Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who supported the 1986 bill but is leading the opposition this time, said he fears Congress is about to make the same mistakes again.


Observers inclined to agree with Grassley have cited an adage that arguably fits the situation.  Amnesty insanity: do the same thing and expect a better result, David Inserra,, 5/31/13.


Clearly, these three pieces of legislation [1986 amnesty bill, 2007 bill that was not enacted, and the current proposal] are incredibly similar— all three are amnesties at their core and reward those who broke U.S. laws with legal status; all three have called for additional security and enforcement; and all three have done and will do nothing to fix our broken immigration system.


2. Assurances the border would be secured later are problematic. Under the Senate bill, the Department of Homeland Security would be charged with developing a plan for securing the southern border with 90% effectiveness (9 out of 10 unauthorized entries stopped – the incidence of overstaying tourist visas does not seem to be mentioned). This plan (and also full implementation of the E-Verify system and biometric checks at ports of entry) would supposedly be implemented before provisional immigrant status determinations could start being upgraded to eventual citizenship.


Compliance and reporting would be up to DHS, however, which as discussed last week has been selective in the data it reports and tends to exaggerate the effectiveness of current border controls.  Even if a Southern Border Security Commission was appointed, as might occur under certain circumstances, the SBSC would make its recommendations and disband (not assume responsibility for border security.)


Perfection of “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status would be deferred for ten years, with certain exceptions, but could proceed thereafter even if 90% border effectiveness, etc. had still not been achieved due to (a) force majeure (developments beyond the government’s control), or (b) litigation (e.g., suits to protect alleged rights of illegal immigrants). 


In a June 4 “dear colleagues” letter, GOP Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Jeff Sessions (AL), Mike Lee (UT), and Chuck Grassley (IA) slammed the border security provisions (and other aspects) of S. 744 in no uncertain terms.


Under S. 744, legalization depends on a finding of satisfactory border security by a single, unelected bureaucrat who has stated publicly she believes the border is already secure.


• During markup, the [Senate Judiciary] Committee voted down every attempt to mandate meaningful control of our borders – including provisions already required by current law, and others included in the failed 2007 immigration bill.


• The bill also rolls back current law mandating a biometric entry-exit system at all ports of entry (air, land, sea) as required by six different statutes dating back to 1996, and as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.


3. Legal immigration improvements would be marginal.  The legal immigration system is a complex maze, which would-be immigrants and prospective employers must surely find confusing and frustrating.  Limits on the number of immigration visas, administered on a per country basis, have resulted in multiple-year wait times for family-sponsored and in some instances employment-based requests. Senate Judiciary Committee report on S. 744, pages 5-6.


S. 744 would set immigration visa quotas on a global basis, which sounds like a step in the right direction, and modify the guest worker program for seasonal workers, etc.  In both cases, however, the prescribed quotas would remain well below likely demand.  Also, there would be lots of “red tape” in the new system – ensuring continuing employment for both government officials and immigration lawyers.


In their “dear colleague” letter, Senator Cruz et al. say S. 744 would complicate the existing immigration system by “creating even more categories of visas and reducing transparency through a series of exceptions from visa caps.”  Senator Cruz offered an amendment in committee that would have doubled the annual green card cap (from 675K to 1,350K), but it was rejected. 


Also, according to one analyst, Section 4211 of the Senate bill would effectively gut the HB-1 (temporary work visa, specialty occupation) program.  Pay higher wages to most H-1B employees than to US workers – advertise the job for at least a month on a Department of Labor online database – offer the job to any “equally or better qualified” American who applies – etc.  Gang of 8 [bill] would make H-1B program unworkable, James Sherk,, 5/20/13.


Bottom line, it is hard to imagine that the proposed changes to the legal immigration system would eliminate existing incentives to break the rules and thereby result in the voluntary cessation of illegal immigration. 


4. Sanctions against illegal immigration would remain inadequate. Large-scale illegal immigration has continued year after year because the government was unwilling to commit the necessary resources and/or take the political heat for enforcing it.  If S. 744 was enacted, there is little reason to think this state of affairs would improve.


Only immigrants who arrived in this country before the end of 2011 would be eligible to apply for RPI status, so several hundred thousand illegal immigrants would remain in the pipeline (or else lie about their arrival date) when the new law became effective.


There would be no deadline for implementing the E-Verify system (which is designed to enable employers to identify and reject illegal immigrant applicants).  An amendment to require full E-Verify implementation within 18 months was rejected in committee.  Senate immigration gang frustrates GOP efforts to bolster border enforcement, Alexander Bolton, Politico, 5/16/13.


While E-Verify implementation is one of the conditions specified before the upgrading of RPI status determinations could begin, 10 years hence, this condition could be waived if the program was being challenged in court (as should be expected).  Rubio/McCain amnesty bill is the next Obamacare, John Hawkins (quoting Mark Krikorkian, Center for Immigration Studies),, 6/11/13.


The litigation over the 1986 bill didn’t end until just a few years ago. The ACLU has been quite clear that it intends to sue to stop mandatory e-verify and probably sue to stop a bunch of other things. If, for instance, mandatory use of electronic verification is still in the courts 10 years after the bill passes, it’s entirely possible the Secretary of Homeland Security can just give everybody Green Cards on her own — and there are hundreds of other examples of that kind of discretion.


Given the government’s apparent lack of interest in enforcing current immigration laws, as demonstrated by the creation of an administratively ordered Dream Act before the 2012 elections (Who needs Congress if the Executive Branch can make the laws? Blog (7/28/12), assurances about future enforcement efforts do not carry much weight. Immigration bill is part of Democratic push for permanent majority, Michelle Malkin,, 6/11/13.


• Exactly one year ago this week, the president announced he would halt all deportations and start granting work permits to an estimated 2.1 million illegal aliens who entered the country as children.


• [Since then,] the feds have rubber-stamped applications at a whopping 99.5 percent approval rate. And fraudulent use of Social Security numbers is no problem for the so-called "DREAM"-ers. The feds reassured them last fall that they wouldn't have to disclose how many and which phony or stolen Social Security numbers they've used.


Government immigration enforcement agents report being frustrated in their efforts to deport illegal immigrants under current law – and they do not believe S. 744 would improve matters. ICE Union: Immigration problems go beyond border security, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 6/12/13.


 “Any plan is doomed to fail that does not empower ICE agents to enforce laws enacted by Congress — and that does not put an end to the unlawful abuse of prosecutorial discretion by political appointees,” Mr. Crane [Chris Crane, president of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement union] said in the letter [to Senators John Cornyn and Marco Rubio], which was obtained by The Washington Times.


Mr. Crane said that the bill now on the Senate floor — known by its Senate designation as S.744 — actually places new restrictions on agents’ ability to go after illegal immigrants in the interior.


The path forward: Senator Ted Cruz recently addressed S. 744 in a powerful speech on the Senate floor.  He made two basic points: (A) the bill as it now stands would not cure the problem of illegal immigration, and (B) there is little chance it would pass in the House and become law. Accordingly, legislators interested in “common sense immigration reform” should support amendments that would make the proposal viable instead of viewing S. 744 as a “done deal” that cannot be substantially changed. (27 minutes, but worth the time).


We agree with Point A.  As already discussed, S. 744 puts legalization ahead of securing the border, provides no assurance the border would be secured later, might improve the legal immigration system but only modestly, and would not contribute to more stringent immigration law enforcement.  How could one expect, therefore, that this bill would cure the problem of illegal immigration?


As for Point B, we are not sure what is likely to happen in the House, particularly if the Senate passes S. 744 by a wide margin. 


It’s clear that Republicans are on the defensive about this issue.  They surely do not want to be blamed in future elections for blocking an immigration reform bill. And House Speaker John Boehner has signaled his intention to proceed with dispatch.  The result might well be an immigration bill arriving at the president’s desk before the end of the year.


Many House Republicans are unhappy about the way things are going, and they may press for a more intensive review.  Revolt among Republicans on immigration bill: 70 House members risk careers in planned showdown with leadership, Madeline Morgenstern, TheBlaze, 6/13/13.


The 70 members are petitioning for a special Republican conference meeting on the bill, a “highly unusual” move to go head-to-head with the speaker, according to Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Steve King (Iowa) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), who are serving as spokespersons for the group.  Bachmann, King and Gohmert told TheBlaze the group is invoking the Hastert Rule: requiring support from a majority of the majority to bring a bill forward.


Speaker Boehner has agreed to a special House conference on immigration in mid-July, but will he be in a listening mood?  Boehner also invited Senator Rubio to an inner circle meeting last week (presumably to pitch the Senate bill), and he is said to envision passage of a House immigration bill before the August recess.  Marco Rubio, John Boehner meet on immigration, John Sherman, Politico, 6/14/13.


As one tea party Republican noted on the Glenn Beck show, the outcome may depend on whether and how the American public weighs in on this issue. “[The] members of Congress don’t even know this fight’s going on,” she said, “so we need your viewers to melt the phone lines.”  [Representative] Michele Bachman: Far right “losing badly,” Tal Kopan, Politico, 6/14/13.



6/24/13 – SAFE suggests another approach


Having concluded that immigration reform is needed but rejected the pending Senate bill, SAFE will now offer its own suggestions. Our plan does not attempt to represent the views on either side of the aisle, but it might actually work. 


Purpose - What is the goal of reform?  We believe it should be to stop illegal immigration in a sensible and humane fashion.


Some observers say great strides have been made already and predict illegal immigration would slow to a trickle if legislation along the lines of S. 744 was enacted.  See, e.g., “The border security ruse,” Wall Street Journal, 6/20/13 (no link available).


According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, the number of illegal immigrants who escaped capture at the nine major crossing points from San Diego to El Paso fell an astonishing 86% between 2006 and 2011.  All the talk-show shouting about America under siege from immigrants streaming across the Rio Grande is fiction.


We are persuaded otherwise, for reasons previously discussed, and so – apparently – is a key sponsor of the Senate bill.  Senator Chuck Schumer recently conceded the porosity of the border in an exchange with Senator Jeff Sessions. Rise in illegal crossings roils immigration debate, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 6/17/13.


This argument that there are going to be 20 million new people in this country under this bill ignores the fact that there are going to be lots of millions ... in the country illegally if we don't have a bill.


Even with the bill, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that illegal immigration would continue at a substantial level.  Cost estimate for S. 744, CBO, 6/18/13. (download PDF).


CBO estimates that, under the bill, the net annual flow of unauthorized residents would decrease by about 25 percent relative to what would occur under current law, resulting in a reduction in the U.S. population (including a reduction in the number of children born in the United States) relative to that benchmark of 1.6 million in 2023 and 2.5 million in 2033.


Ergo, the Senate bill as it stands will not meet the goal – nor would it be saved by a “deal” that was announced with much fanfare last week to seek more GOP support by beefing up border security.  Some fundamental rethinking is needed – not just more window dressing. 


1. Relax about border security – What the words “secure the border” bring to mind are more miles of fence, “boots on the ground,” and drones overhead– effectively viewing unauthorized immigrants coming across the US-Mexican border in search of employment as an invasion.

For goodness sakes, that’s no way to look at things!  Barriers to invasion – such as the Great Wall of China or France’s Maginot Line – have rarely worked very well.  And these would-be immigrants aren’t coming here for the purpose of doing Americans harm anyway; most of them are seeking gainful employment.


True, there has been escalating violence along the border, but this is attributable to criminal gangs.  The drug trade is lucrative because enforcement efforts have driven up prices, and barring truly draconian measures it will continue.


It’s time to admit that “the war on drugs” has been a colossal failure and try some other approach, such as legalization (of marijuana at least) subject to government regulation and taxation.  If this is done, look for declining violence along the border (and in Mexico & points south), fewer criminal prosecutions and smaller prison populations.  War on drugs is worse than prohibition, John Stossel, Newsmax, 6/19/13.


This is not to advocate an open border policy, but there are more than enough checkpoints, fences, and border agents already.  The US currently spends about $18 billion per year on immigration enforcement agencies, more than for all other law enforcement agencies combined. Billions proposed for new border security. Where would the money go?  Christie Thompson,, 4/28/13.


Yet last week, the sponsors of the Senate bill (and also the White House) announced their support of a proposal by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) that would raise the security ante dramatically. Border security deal boosts immigration bill’s chances in Senate, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 6/20/13.


The proposal would require hiring 20,000 more Border Patrol agents and deploying them to the US-Mexico border, which more than doubles the 18,462 agents there as of January, and require another 350 miles of pedestrian fencing along with the 352 miles that exist.

The high spot cost estimate for these measures was $30+ billion over the next 10 years.  Wow, what ever happened to the fiscal problem?  Senator Chuck Schumer, for one, claimed the cost was paid for in that a just released Congressional Budget Office estimate said S. 744 would reduce the federal deficit by nearly $200 billion over the next decade.


Don’t bet the ranch on this estimate – there are too many assumptions involved to reach any definite conclusions re the fiscal effect – and it’s a bit rich that the CBO employed “dynamic scoring” for this particular analysis when they have consistently declined to do so in scoring tax legislation.  But even if the projected savings were rock solid, that would not justify spending (or should we say wasting) $30 billion for unnecessary facilities and personnel. 


Far from increasing the commitments for additional border security in the Senate bill, therefore, as the Corker-Hoeven Amendment contemplates, the commitments already made should be reconsidered.


2. Eliminate the job magnet – Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims the border is effectively secure now. If additional money were to be spent, therefore, it should go towards enforcing the law against hiring unauthorized immigrants. Napolitano: No need to bind amnesty to border security, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 2/13/13.


If Congress wants to increase enforcement, she said, it should come from the Interior Department [?], which could prevent businesses from hiring illegal immigrants. All sides agree that jobs are the magnet that draws most illegal immigrants to the country.

To this end, we would propose aggressive use of the E-Verify system – which the government currently provides on a voluntary, no charge basis.  Many employers are already using E-Verify to determine the employment eligibility of prospective employees.  DHS write-up,


Other observers have expressed misgivings about E-Verify, however, so let’s consider their arguments.


• Not our job - Some critics say it’s the government’s job to enforce the law against hiring unauthorized immigrants and bureaucrats should not be enabled to shift this burden to the private sector.  Employers are not immigration officers, Jeff Jacoby,, 6/16/13.


If the law can ban a company from hiring a competent and peaceable worker who happens to be in the country without appropriate documents, can it also ban a company from hiring a worker who happens to be bankrupt? Or who has unpaid speeding tickets? Or who was once arrested for smoking marijuana?


With all due respect, it seems legitimate for the government to ban the employment of unauthorized immigrants.  And once it has done so, private employers have a duty to observe the ban – at least to the extent of screening new hires - just as they comply with child labor or minimum wage laws.  Do the critics really want federal agents busting into workplaces in search of evidence that illegal immigrants are being employed?


Too expensive - Polls indicate widespread support for using E-Verify, what’s not to like about it?  But if respondents are told that employers (especially small businesses) would be charged some $100 per job applicant for use of the system, the support level drops markedly. Public opinion on immigration, Emily Elkins, Cato Institute, 6/5/13. (4:32 video).


OK, but why charge for using the E-Verify system when it has already been developed, is currently being made available without charge, and serves the government’s interests? 


Let the government continue providing access to E-Verify for free, and fund this program from the savings to be realized from ending the war on drugs and foregoing the additional border security measures that are currently under consideration.


• Intrusiveness – E-Verify stokes fear in some quarters that “big brother” may be taking over. Immigration bill’s national ID system raises fears of abuse, Audrey Hudson, Newsmax, 6/16/13.


-In order to verify an immigrant’s legal status, employers would be allowed to access the databases of drivers' licenses in individual states through an expanded network created by the Homeland Security Department, the New York Times reports. 


-Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Rand Paul (R-KY) were both reportedly concerned about this, even though all E-Verify reports is whether or not a prospective employee is eligible for employment.


And wouldn’t it be dreadful if biometric checks became part of the national ID – so that your identity and status could be quickly and conveniently verified, not only when you applied for a job but also to gain access to public buildings, open a bank account, buy a house, etc.  Biometric database of all adult Americans hidden in immigration reform, David Kravets,, 5/10/13.


The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.  Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID. *** For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last.


At the risk of stepping on a few conservative toes, we would ask two questions.  (1) Why shouldn’t people be asked to identify themselves?  It’s done all the time.  (2) Why should machine-readable national ID cards with a photo be viewed as more intrusive than driver licenses, passports, and the like?  The degree of intrusiveness would depend on the data displayed, hopefully not including Social Security numbers, and when/why identification was required.


A more valid concern, in our opinion, is how well national ID cards would work in practice.  A feasibility test by DHS at the nation’s maritime facilities showed that “the matching frequently fails, [so] the cards have to be processed manually, defeating the purpose of a machine-based system.” Something from George Orwell; the government wants to keep your secrets on an ID card, Washington Times, 5/15/13.


OK, forget about national ID cards for the time being (no one has proposed to implement them anyway), but the arguments against the E-Verify program don’t seem to hold water – and by the way mainstreaming of this program is contemplated by S. 744 (and reportedly reinforced by the Corker-Hoeven amendment).


Ten years hence, before DHS can start issuing permanent visas (aka green cards) to aliens who have been granted registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status, thereby putting them on a track to citizenship, DHS must (among other things) have “implemented the mandatory employment verification system [E-Verify] required for use by all employers to prevent unauthorized workers from obtaining employment in the United States.” 


This requirement won’t apply, however, if the use of E-Verify has been barred by the courts or is being litigated.  And it stands to reason that a dilatory approach to making E-Verify a mandatory program will increase the odds of litigation being in process at the critical point in time.


Accordingly, we would propose a deadline for requiring all employers to start using E-Verify in screening job applicants – effective date of the legislation + 18 months (E + 18).  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment along these lines earlier, which the bill’s sponsors blocked.  Senate immigration gang frustrates GOP effort to bolster border enforcement, Alexander Bolton, The Hill, 5/16/13.


Use of the E-Verify system should be on a fee-free basis, as previously discussed, and DHS should be responsible for following up on E-Verify rejections of job applicants rather than forcing employers to assume this responsibility.


As of E + 36, and periodically thereafter, employers would be required to check their entire workforce with E-Verify.  This would give unauthorized immigrants who were present in this country when the legislation became effective ample time to apply for RPI status (which should enable them to pass the E-Verify check).


Would these measures end all illegal immigration?  Probably not, but they would greatly reduce the current incentives to enter or stay in the country illegally.  Improvement of the legal entry system, as discussed under the next heading, would also be helpful in this regard.


3. Expand opportunities for legal entry – There are many people outside this country who would like to seek employment in the United States, and it is generally perceived as in the national interest to let some of them do so.  The influx is seen as having two components: (i) highly educated and/or skilled immigrants with abilities that are in short supply, and (ii) workers ready, willing and anxious to fill jobs that Americans don’t wish to take.


The case for admitting high-end immigrants seems strong, the only potential concern being that employers might hire them in preference to qualified Americans.


Given the current unemployment problem in this country (as manifested by a relatively high unemployment rate, plus the lowest workforce participation rate since the Carter era), one might wonder about admitting low-end immigrants.  Where is Paul Krugman on immigration?  Jan Ting, (Wilmington, DE) News Journal, Delaware Chatter (6/22/13)


If famed economist Paul Krugman weighed in on this issue, suggests Professor Ting slyly, wouldn’t the Nobel laureate have to acknowledge that “allowing more poor immigrants into the US will increase economic inequality . . . make the plight of unemployed and underemployed Americans even worse than it is now . . . [and] doom the Affordable Care Act to failure and financial collapse.” 


True, the CBO estimates that S. 744 would result in overall fiscal gains of some $700 billion over the next two decades.  More people – more jobs – more taxes – Social Security retirement benefits down the road conveniently overlooked.  But one might think a proposal to encourage more unemployed Americans to find jobs by pruning overly generous welfare benefits would produce considerably larger fiscal gains.


This being said, we are willing to assume that the proposed caps on the various categories of immigrants and guest workers embodied in S. 744 reflect a reasonable answer to an imponderable question: what is the maximum number of immigrants and guest workers that should be allowed to come to this country per year?  If anything, some of these caps might need to be raised so as to leave no excuse for turning a blind eye to a continuing flow of illegal immigration.


Opportunities may also exist for minimizing the red tape associated with lawful entry.  For example, it is claimed that S. 744 as drafted would overcomplicate the hiring of workers under the HB-1 (temporary work visa, specialty occupation) program. Pay higher wages to most H-1B employees than to US workers – advertise the job for at least a month on a Department of Labor online database – offer the job to any “equally or better qualified” American who applies – etc.  Gang of 8 [bill] would make H-1B program unworkable, James Sherk,, 5/20/13.


We would urge the members of Congress to capitalize on such opportunities with the goal of making the legal entry programs simple and transparent.  If people understand the law and perceive it as fair, they are more likely to follow it.


4. Regularize status of unauthorized immigrants – In principle, it seems acceptable to grant registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status to unauthorized immigrants who are already here and put them on a path to eventual citizenship. 


Why does S. 744 require arrival by 12/31/11 to qualify for such treatment? The effective date of the bill (E+0 months) would be a more appropriate starting point.  However, unauthorized immigrants in the country as of E+0 should be required to register for RPI status – which would be duly reflected in the E-Verify system – before employers started screening existing workers as of E+36.


Critics may view the proposed legalization as tantamount to amnesty. OK, but 11+ million people cannot be rounded up and deported, so let’s be practical.  And forget about putting the path to citizenship of RPIs on hold until the border has been secured, E-Verify has been declared fully effective, etc., because such a sanction would never be enforced. 


As already discussed, the practical approach is to decide what control measures are needed (primarily mandating the use of E-Verify in our view) – set deadlines for action – and ensure the deadlines are met.


Another prerequisite for eliminating illegal immigration is to prevent future lawbreaking related to illegal entry, and other crimes whenever committed, from being condoned, ignored, waived, or endlessly litigated.  To this end, something needs to be done about the profusion of waivers or rights of appeal permitted by S. 744 for criminal offenses of unauthorized immigrants.  They make a mockery of the “toughest enforcement measures in US history” claims that have been made. Is the gang of eight really tough on immigrants with criminal records?  Byron York, Washington Examiner, 6/16/13.


[Among other things,] the legislation gives the secretary of Homeland Security authority to ignore an immigrant’s record and grant legal status no matter how many misdemeanor convictions the immigrant might have. “The secretary may waive [the misdemeanor requirement] on behalf of an alien for humanitarian purposes, to ensure family unity, or if such a waiver is otherwise in the public interest,” the bill says. It is within Janet Napolitano’s discretion to decide what is in the public interest.


Also, S. 744 would authorize subcontracting of the citizen preparation process – at government expense - to nongovernmental organizations that could operate without observing the restrictions on government employees who must act in a nonpartisan manner, e.g., the NGOs could encourage unauthorized immigrants to support a given political party (guess which one). 6 big problems with the immigration bill from someone who has actually read it, Betsy McCaughey (also an articulate and well-informed critic of GovCare),, 6/10/13. (video, 19:43). 


We believe the purpose of the citizen preparation provisions pointed out by McCaughey is nakedly political, and they should be vetted severely or deleted.


Tying up another loose end, the president’s administrative version of the Dream Act should be repealed.  If there are to be special accommodations for unauthorized immigrants brought in as children, they should be provided by Congress.


And here is one more thing.  It’s time for a federal law requiring reliable identification of voters at the polls, thereby ensuring that unauthorized immigrants do not begin voting unless and until they become citizens.  We find it truly shocking that the administration has not only not stepped up to this problem, but also fought state efforts to do so.


In summary: Relax about securing the border, streamline the legal entry system and ensure the caps are high enough, but set a deadline for making the E-Verify program fully effective and stop tolerating illegal behavior by unauthorized immigrants on a going forward basis. 


That’s an immigration reform plan we could live with.  If you agree, please pass it on.