At the beginning of the current national debate concerning immigration, The Heritage Foundation described the principles that should inform immigration policy, suggested some considerations for policymakers, and proposed several first steps in developing such a policy. These principles have guided and will continue to guide Heritage Foundation analysis of this question, and they should guide lawmakers and policymakers in evaluating particular proposals that come before them.
Congress and the President now have another opportunity to craft immigration reform legislation. Given the stakes involved, they should proceed carefully, fully cognizant of the immediate and long-term implications of their actions.
Lawmakers should support comprehensive reform if and when they are confident that the proposed immigration reforms fully and honestly comprehend these core principles. At the same time, they should oppose and, if necessary, the President should veto any reforms or reform packages that do not comport with these principles, are not in the best interests of the United States, and are inconsistent with the great traditions and compassionate practices of America's ongoing experiment in ordered liberty.
The First Priority: National Security
Principle: America's immigration system must be a national strength and not a strategic vulnerability.
The United States must have a complete security system-from the point of origin, in transit, at the border, and within the United States-that strengthens all of the activities, assets, and programs necessary to secure America's borders. Congress must provide for comprehensive security, allow for operational flexibility in securing the border, target federal support at the border, authenticate identification materials, implement US-VISIT, require security checks for entry, and insist on a national security trigger for any temporary worker program.
Uphold the Rule of Law
Principle: The rule of law requires the fair, firm, and consistent enforcement of the law, and immigration is no exception.
Congress and the President must take credible steps to reduce illegal immigration in both annual and absolute terms, and that requires enforcement. Congress must increase workplace enforcement, strengthen employment verification, maintain state and local enforcement authority, target criminal enforcement, and facilitate state and local law enforcement.
Amnesty Is Not the Answer
Principle: Those who enter, remain in, and work in the country illegally are in ongoing and extensive violation of our immigration laws.
Forgiving or condoning such violations by granting amnesty increases the likelihood of further illegal conduct, is deeply unfair, and undermines the rule of law. The just and reasonable requirement for correcting illegal immigration, in addition to other appropriate penalties, is repatriation, after which individuals may apply for legal entry to the United States without partiality or prejudice.
Principle: Each nation has the responsibility- and obligation-to determine its own conditions for immigration, naturalization, and citizenship.
This requires clarifying the distinction between citizens and non-citizens and creating a deliberate and self-confident policy that assimilates immigrants and new American citizens. Congress must encourage immigrant education, provide for the common language, clarify birthright citizenship, revive expatriation, improve immigration services, and protect the integrity of the legal immigration process.
Benefit the American Economy
Principle: Immigration policy should be a fiscal and economic benefit not only for immigrants, but also for the nation as a whole.
Overall, immigration policy should support a growing economy and bring economic benefit to all Americans. Policymakers must ensure that the interaction of social services and immigration policy does not expand the welfare state and impose significant costs on American society. Congress must consider fiscal costs and benefits, emphasize high-skill immigration, reduce the state fiscal burden, and encourage economic freedom.
A Real Temporary Worker Program
Principle: A temporary worker program must be temporary, market-oriented, and feasible.
A balanced and well-constructed temporary worker program should diminish the incentives for illegal immigration by providing an additional option for legal temporary labor and, in combination with other reforms, reduce over time the current population of illegal aliens. An ill-defined and poorly constructed temporary worker program would make the current problems of immigration policy even worse. In creating a temporary worker program, Congress must ensure that it remains temporary, create a dynamic workforce that includes sponsorship, resolve issues of family status for program participants, require bilateral agreements, include program triggers, provide economic incentives for employers and participants, insist on numerical caps, limit the status adjustment for temporary workers, and resist large, unwieldy programs.
Edwin Meese III is Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, and Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.