Why Amnesty Isn’t the Answer
With the news full of reports about more caravans headed for the border and immigration agents overwhelmed by surging numbers of migrants seeking asylum, it may seem like an odd time for our leaders in Washington to be proposing amnesty. Yet that’s what happened recently, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proudly announced a proposal that would allow more than 2 million aliens to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Contrast this overture against President Trump’s immigration agenda—a robust physical barrier, asylum reform and an end to catch-and-release, among others—and it’s clear that America is at a crossroads with not only our immigration policy, but our long-range direction as a nation. An apolitical assessment of the situation would raise a simple question: what is truly in the best long-term interests of the country? When viewed through that prism, it is crystal clear that more amnesty is not the answer.
America’s history on immigration has taught us that there is no singular act of granting amnesty to those here illegally. It merely swings the gate open for future amnesties.
Skeptical? Ronald Reagan grudgingly supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which was sold as a one-time, never-again amnesty that would effectively end illegal immigration and at the same time create more vigorous border enforcement. It became the largest legalization in U.S. history, with approximately 2.7 million people here illegally receiving green cards.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Act was a miserable failure. Before IRCA’s passage, it was estimated there were 5 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. Today that figure is anywhere from 11 million to 20 million. So a generous amnesty had precisely the opposite effect of its stated intentions, and today Speaker Pelosi is lecturing us on the need for more amnesty. Are we really gullible enough to believe this would be the last one?
A quick scan of immigration headlines today is all the proof one needs to confirm that IRCA’s border enforcement provisions were a failure as well. Despite the law’s call for more resources at the border, Congress delayed funding the effort for nearly a decade. As a result, illegal border crossings actually increased in the years after IRCA’s passage. Today the spigot of illegal aliens entering our country has morphed into something resembling a water cannon.
Furthermore, as part of the unsightly sausage-making on Capitol Hill, IRCA’s sanctions against employers’ hiring illegal aliens were rendered grossly inadequate. That, combined with the fact that the law resulted in a flood of fraudulent amnesty applications that were ultimately approved, should make American citizens highly skeptical of politicians who rely on a national ignorance of history while peddling the latest amnesty plan.
If an amnesty law failed so spectacularly in the comparatively less partisan Reagan era, what hope is there in our current scorched-earth political landscape? The unavoidable fact is that significant numbers of lawmakers in both political parties, for various reasons, are heavily invested in keeping the flow of illegal aliens into the country at current levels or higher.
Elected leaders who insist that “I support border security but am against a border wall” doth protest too much. Only the most brazen and radical politicians will support dismantling ICE, removing existing border walls, et al. They are easy to spot and classify as far out of the mainstream. Far more dangerous to the country are those who profess support for a generic “border security” yet work tirelessly to insert fine print into laws that weaken national sovereignty and enable unfettered illegal immigration.
So what is in the best long-term interests of the country? That question can be debated ad nauseam, but it stretches credulity that the answer is an amnesty concession that fails on every promise.
Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of illegal migration.