The United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in the past decade alone to foil illegal immigration — tightening the border, accelerating deportations, deputizing local police — while doing precious little to stop employers from hiring undocumented immigrants.
That is fixable — by means of a universal national identity card — and must be fixed as part of any sensible overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.
Critics of immigration reform are right that the last big attempt to fix the system, in 1986, was no fix at all. Millions of undocumented immigrants were given amnesty but without any effective provision to stop future illegal migrants from entering the country or overstaying their visas.
If the current attempt to reform the system includes a provision to legalize some 11 million illegal immigrants — and we hope it does — it must not repeat the mistake of 1986. That means establishing mechanisms to ensure an adequate supply of legal immigrant labor, skilled and unskilled. And it means deterring unauthorized entry.
There are two ways to achieve that goal. One is to deploy sensors, drones and thousands more agents along the border, as both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have done, to significant effect. The other is to make it easy for companies to detect and reject undocumented job applicants and for the government to prosecute employers who flout the law. If illegal immigrants can’t get jobs, they won’t come to this country.
An effective solution would be to issue tamperproof, biometric ID cards — using fingerprints or a comparably unique identifier — to all citizens and legal residents. Last week, both President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of eight senators seeking immigration reform urged something along those lines, without calling it a universal national identity card. That’s a major step forward.
The Washington Post (Feb. 3)