We all agree that our immigration system is a mess. Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman recently opined that the “Gang of Eight” amnesty proposal in Congress solves it. Perhaps. But we have a bill of more than 1,000 pages to consider, supported by a powerful coalition of business and ethnic lobbies. One thousand pages can hide a whole lot of mischief. Let’s take our time and find out what’s actually in it.
The centerpiece of this bill is blanket amnesty, not just for illegal immigrants but also for their employers. The employers — who recruited and built the employment chains from Mexico and colluded in multiple felonies, such as identity theft, document fraud and tax evasion — are given complete forgiveness. No penalties. No fines. And government employees who report employer violations discovered in the course of processing applications face a $10,000 fine, per sections 2104 and 2105. Multiple experts have studied illegal immigration and told Congress that the linchpin to stopping illegal immigration is strict enforcement against the employers, not amnesty.
Contrary to the claims of its supporters that border security comes first, the gang’s amnesty starts the legalization process immediately after the Department of Homeland Security submits a plan for securing the U.S.-Mexico border and another plan to determine where fencing is needed, per section 3. That’s it. No congressional approval, no benchmarks. Just a plan.
In 1986, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided amnesty and promised border security and employment enforcement. Six amnesties later, after multiple expansions in legal visas, we have 11 million more illegal immigrants. The gang’s amnesty, by granting legal status with just a promise of eventual enforcement, is strikingly similar to the failed 1986 bill. The critics have justified concerns. Not surprisingly, in a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, only 18 percent of respondents supported the amnesty-first approach. And yet the gang’s supporters defeated every amendment so far that sought enforcement first, fearing that any change would bring down their fragile, house-of-cards compromise.
Not all 11 million illegal immigrants are “hardworking people with strong family values” as claimed. Illegal immigration has also given us the MS-13, one the most violent gangs in America, in addition to human trafficking, drug violence and identity fraud. The amnesty proposal purports to nab the bad apples by performing background checks. On 11 million? The two unions representing Homeland Security employees charged with enforcing our immigration laws oppose the plan, declaring that it’s unenforceable. Meaningful background checks on this scale are impossible. As in 1986, rubber stamping and fraud would be inevitable.
The plan also includes a huge increase in legal immigration, largely driven by billionaire technology companies who argue there’s a dire skills shortage holding the U.S. economy back. Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman responds: “What the business person really wants is highly (and expensively) educated workers at a manual-labor wage. No wonder they come up short.”
According to the Columbia Journalism Review: “Allowing more STEM immigrants, the story goes, is key to adding jobs to the beleaguered US economy. It’s a narrative that’s been skillfully packaged and promoted by well-funded advocacy groups as essential to the national interest, but in reality it reflects the economic interests of tech companies and universities.” STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and math.
But most important are the overall numbers and how the numbers will affect our labor market, fiscal debt and long-term national goals. According to the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress, which supports the amnesty plan, this bill will generate 32.5 million green cards in the first decade alone, which includes the 11 million already here. By comparison, between 1890 and 1950, we admitted 24 million immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In the 1960s, when the economy was strong, we admitted 3 million. Each of the 32.5 million will also be entitled to sponsor any number of extended family members, which means that a whole new population will expect American citizenship in the future.
And who benefits from this massive expansion of workers and consumers? According to The Sunlight Foundation, an organization working for government transparency that follows money in Congress, business lobbies spent almost $1.5 billion dollars since 2007 to expand immigration. The gang’s amnesty plan is their bill.
Let’s go back to the drawing board. Think more deeply and less passionately about this complex issue and work for true consensus. Some form of amnesty should be considered, on a case by case basis, but we shouldn’t have another sweeping indiscriminate legalization, in the absence of real reform.
Let’s do it right this time.
Jonette Christian, of Holden, is a founder of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy.