Nurturing a Nation of Immigrants

COMMENTARY Immigration

Nurturing a Nation of Immigrants

Aug 30th, 2007 7 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

More than any other nation in history, our country and its system of equal justice and economic freedom beckons not only the downtrodden and the persecuted indeed, all those "yearning to breathe free" but also those who seek opportunity and a better future for themselves and their posterity. Immigration is an important part of the U.S. economy and civil society. U.S. economic growth continues to outstrip population growth, and that means the country needs both low- and high-skilled immigrants whose labor, vitality, and diversity remain an important part of maintaining a vibrant and prosperous America. Growing America, however, is not a process that should be taken out of its citizens. Through the laws of the nation, the people of the United States invite individuals from other countries, under certain conditions, to join them as visitors, workers, students, residents, and as fellow citizens. It's the federal government's job to administer those laws.1 Among these responsibilities: processing visa petitions, naturalization petitions, asylum and refugee applications, performing other immigration-related activities, and controlling the nation's borders.

Before 9/11, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) provided naturalization services and conducted immigration enforcement. Border control responsibilities were divided among Customs, the Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard. In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, legislation established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Within the new department, enforcement functions were assigned to two agencies: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).2  The laws also established the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as the entity primarily responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies. Together these three agencies make up the equally necessary layers required to ensuring better immigration and border control programs.

Strategy First

The goal of U.S. strategy should not be to try to keep people from coming to the United States, but to ensure that those who choose to do so act within the laws of our society. A strategy to gain operational control of the U.S. southern border should focus on building up the means to limit illegal crossings between the land points of entry, interdict smuggling by air and sea, discourage unlawful presence inside the country, and provide adequate legal alternatives to support south north migration flows. A strategy that does not do all of these tasks equally well will fail.

Border Security

The Administration knows it must ramp up its ability to manage the southern border, and it knows that just trying to build a wall is not the right answer. Ending practices such as "catch and release," which allowed apprehend illegal immigrants to abscond before they were removed from the country, and enforcing expedited removal, which sends illegal immigrants home quickly, will be important in deterring further illegal border crossings. In addition, the Administration correctly requested $1 billion to start funding SBInet, a program which will introduce systems to help manage border security. Adding the right mix of personnel, infrastructure, technology, and state and local cooperation will produce the most cost-effective means for securing the border.

Interior Enforcement

Enforcing the immigration laws of the U.S. is also a vital deterrent against further illegal migration. This must include, as the Administration proposes, serious workplace enforcement that targets employers who intentionally hire undocumented workers. The Administration has rightly proposed using Social Security "no-match" security measures, allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to track when employers turn in paperwork with "fake" social security numbers.

Employers currently verify an employee's right to work by submitting the person's Social Security number (SSN) for payroll tax purposes. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that approximately 10 percent of the SSNs (nearly 9 million) submitted by employers on earnings reports initially do not match SSA master records. Most of the mismatches are probably innocuous, resulting from a misspelling or a change of the employee's name, but some mismatches are clearly intended to mask employment of undocumented workers. The GAO found many examples of employers using the same SSN for more than 10 different workers in a single year and over a hundred instances in which employers used the same SSN on more than 100 earnings reports. DHS agents cannot combat this rampant fraud unless they have more access to the Social Security Administration's "no match" data.

Regrettably, federal law prohibits the SSA from giving the DHS access to "no match" SSNs. With those data and knowing which parts of the economy most often employ undocumented workers, the DHS could target enforcement against large-scale employers who are intentionally skirting the law. Within a few years, the DHS conceivably could target one-third of the illegal workforce: about 5 million illegal workers.

State and Local Enforcement

Enhanced law enforcement in border communities in the form of more robust community policing will be important. Local law enforcement officers are ideal because they often have the best intelligence on threats in their areas, are most familiar with the local people and geography, and are trained experts in community policing techniques.

The value of community policing is primarily to deter the types of crime that are associated with illegal human trafficking along the border (e.g., trespassing, theft, and document forgery), not to enforce federal immigration laws. Deterring this criminal activity will in turn make the federal government's challenge of policing the border more manageable.

State and local governments will support these programs because they have a vested interest in making their communities more safe and secure. In addition, since the focus of their efforts is deterring crime not arrest, prosecution, and incarceration these programs should not substantially increase the burden on state and local judicial and penal systems. The federal government should support their efforts because they contribute directly to a federal mission.

Another worthwhile initiative is better utilization of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which provides the legal authority for state and local enforcement to investigate, detain, and arrest aliens on civil and crimi­nal grounds. Any comprehensive border and immigration security legislation by Congress should include provisions for strengthen­ing and expanding programs authorized under §287(g). 287(g) provides protection to states and their law officers while requiring that well-trained officers conduct immigration investiga­tions. It also allows states and local governments to tailor programs to meet their unique circumstances and requirements. Any comprehensive border and immigration security legislation should strengthen and expand programs authorized under §287(g).

Temporary Workers

In reasserting his call for a temporary guest-worker program, the President is correct to insist that any such program must serve the U.S. economy as well as our law enforcement and national security objectives. He is also correct, and must insist, that any such program be truly temporary: Participation must be for a limited period of time; workers must return home after that period ends; and those that attempt to stay must be permanently ineligible for other visa programs, permanent residency, or citizenship.

The Amnesty Flaw and Hope for Assimilation

The President is right to propose that the status of illegal immigrants currently in the United States should be resolved "without animosity and without amnesty." But any measure that would allow millions of illegal immigrants who have broken U.S. immigration laws to remain in the United States is, by definition, an amnesty. Amnesty is troubling not only because it undercuts the rule of law and is unfair to those immigrants who respect our laws, but also because it would undermine efforts to control the nation's borders, decrease the illegal population, and discourage the employment of undocumented workers. As such, amnesty violates core principles of immigration policy.

Patriotic assimilation is the key to the long-term success of any immigration policy. New citizens must be committed to America's civic principles, appreciate American history and culture, and share America's common language and we should encourage immigrants to become citizens. The President is correct to elevate this assimilation element and must insist on its inclusion in any reform package. Amendments favoring assimilation that overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Senate provide a solid baseline proposal.

International Cooperation

Foreign relations between U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón should focus on the U.S.-Mexico border. Their first priority should be shared initiatives that make border communities more safe, secure, and prosperous. This will require substantially reducing the illegal border crossing that fuels criminal activity on both sides.

For starters, the two leaders must craft an effective strategy to disrupt existing undocumented migrant pipelines and make legal migration a viable alternative. A successful disruption plan should have three components. First is security and enforcement. Mexico should establish floating security checkpoints on its southern border and along known migrant byways, such as the railroads that run from Chiapas to Texas. The United States should ensure rapid, robust border patrol deployment and consistent enforcement along its southwest border. To make legal migration attractive and aid enforcement, employer certification procedures, Social Security and Medicare tax filing, and the visa application process should be simplified and streamlined.

Second, Bush and Calderón must find ways to help border states and municipalities develop their own solutions to protect the frontier while facilitating legal commerce. Platforms already exist for this, from the Border Environment Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank to the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission Working Group on Homeland Security and Border Cooperation. Today, the North American Bank is underfinanced, and decisions in Mexico are slowed by the need to deal with its centralized bureaucracy.

Third, they must discuss Mexico's responsibility to foster a more competitive economy and boost employment. Mexico should phase out remaining monopolies in the communications and energy sectors, continue easing cumbersome business regulations, and strengthen its courts and the rule of law so that contracts can have teeth. Education must be improved in rural areas, while the country's 80-year-old land tenure system should be phased out to let occupants farm more efficiently or sell titled property to raise capital.
The Way Forward

Congress should debate, consider, and pass comprehensive immigration reform. But any such reform must be comprehensive in theory and in practice. Lawmakers must be confident that it includes principled and practical measures that enhance security, serve the economy, and respect the rule of law. Anything less will not work and would not be "an immigration system worthy of America."

James Jay Carafano is an expert in defense affairs, military operations and strategy, and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation, where he is assistant director of its Institute for International Studies and a senior research fellow at its Center for Foreign Policy Studies. He has taught at a number of universities, including the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval War College, National Defense University, and George-town University.

First Appeared in The Politic