The Obama administration is pushing an immigration amnesty bill that it claims will make us safer. Officials are on Capitol Hill making his case. Controlling borders is a national security problem, but hijacking national security as an excuse for bad immigration and border polices is just plain wrong.
Bush officials made the same argument when they offered amnesty as an answer. Both Congress and the American people rejected that rationale - and with good reason. There is no good national security argument for amnesty.
By most estimates, about 11 million people are in the United States illegally. According to one argument, amnesty will let us register this population and know who's inside the country. That's cold comfort for national security. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledged to reporters in May 2009 that "the bulk of illegal immigration is because of labor demands." We gain very little security value by giving illegal immigrants citizenship or a green card.
There are certainly some hardened criminals, and even possibly a few would-be terrorists, lurking in that mass. Most bad guys, however, are unlikely to come forward and register with the U.S. government. Even if mass amnesty somehow caught a few bad guys, it would be a bad deal. The most efficient and cost-effective way to find terrorists and felony criminals is to hunt them down, not waste resources on registering and conducting background checks on millions - and then rewarding them for violating immigration laws. Further, if we lack criminal background or intelligence information on these malicious actors, and we grant them amnesty status, we'll be making it easier for them to cause harm - because now they will be here legally and can roam without fear of capture or interference.
That's exactly what happened as a result of the 1986 immigration amnesty bill. In 1993, Mir Aimal Kasi shot CIA employees in their cars as they waited at a stoplight outside agency headquarters in Langley, Va. Though he entered the country illegally, Kasi received temporary residence because he claimed that he picked beans in Florida. According to the 1986 law, aliens who had a job for 90 days as an agricultural laborer during 1985-1986 were granted amnesty.
Worse, legalizing the 11 million people unlawfully present will just encourage millions more to follow them. That's exactly what happened the last time this was tried. In 1986, Ronald Reagan (a Republican president who ran on a robust national security platform) supported an amnesty.
Instead of solving the problem, the unlawful population ballooned.
Before the recent economic downturn and increased border security, that population was five times bigger than it was in 1986.
Amnesty would be a clear signal that the United States has no will to enforce immigration laws. When millions follow, border security will become harder, not easier. The Department of Homeland Security won't be able to focus on the transnational criminal cartels ravaging the border - they'll be too busy trying to head off border crashers and registering the millions already here.
DHS also can't argue that amnesty is the only other option. They can't claim there is nothing more they can to do secure the border, battle the cartels, and enforce immigration and workplace laws. Homeland Security has steadily scaled back on domestic enforcement efforts, including downplaying the 287(g) program, which facilitates cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement. The administration has done little to follow up on the Merida Initiative, a program started by President Bush to help Mexico fight the cartels. DHS also knows it can do a lot more to make the resources now on the border more efficient and effective. The president may promise more security, but his plan is likely to make us less secure.
This isn't an option we have to accept. There are choices other than a) doing nothing, b) amnesty, or c) trying to round up the 11 million people here unlawfully. The government can start by improving border security, battling the cartels, enforcing immigration and workplace laws, and creating effective temporary worker programs to get employers the employees they need to grow our economy.
Making these changes first will dramatically shrink the pool of illegal immigrants in the United States. Many will likely leave the U.S. voluntarily.
Others will lose the incentive to come here illegally. That makes sense.
Amnesty does not.
James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.
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