May 31, 2007

May 31, 2007 | Commentary on

To be successful, here's what immigration bill must do

It's difficult to write about the Senate's proposed immigration reform bill, because it's such a moving target. And yet the branch of our government that calls itself "The World's Greatest Deliberative Body" intended to have a final vote last Thursday, even though most senators hadn't even seen the massive bill (350 pages in one printing) until a few days earlier.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and we'll actually have some debate before any bill is voted on in the weeks ahead. That's good, because if our leaders want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, they need to ensure their bill accomplishes at least three critical objectives.

1. Any immigration reform must enhance national security and uphold the rule of law.

No nation is safe unless it can control its borders. Uncontrolled immigration sends a message that our government can't enforce its own policies and provides a tempting opening to those who wish to attack us. It's hardly a surprise that three of the men caught recently while plotting to attack Fort Dix had been here illegally for years. Fox News reported that the three had been issued 19 traffic citations, yet they were never deported. When a nation declines to enforce its laws, criminals take advantage.

In the same vein, immigration reform will work only if it cracks down on those who employ illegal immigrants. A simple step in that direction would be to amend the tax code to remove the tax deductibility of wages paid to unauthorized aliens.

Meanwhile, Washington must make it easier for the Department of Homeland Security and the IRS to target employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. It isn't just illegal aliens gaming the current system, but those employers who exploit illegal workers.

2. It must reject amnesty.

If our government rewards those who've been breaking our laws by allowing them to remain legally in the United States after a mere slap on the wrist, that's amnesty.

As a first step, our government must insist that, before an illegal immigrant can apply to live in the United States, he or she must leave our country and get right with the law. To encourage them, Congress should ensure that individuals living in the United States illegally should receive no federal benefits or advantages while they remain here.

3. It must strengthen citizenship.

For centuries, the U.S. system has worked because it has taken in immigrants from around the globe and made them Americans. We've assimilated immigrants, and they've agreed to speak a common language and abide by our political principles and assume the responsibilities of self-government.

Too often these days, though, U.S. citizenship is seen as something granted, not something earned. To succeed, any reform must reject the idea that anyone who happens to be born in the United States is an American citizen.

The very idea of "anchor babies" runs counter to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment says those born here also must be "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States," which the children of illegals -- like the children of tourists -- are not, because their parents aren't legal and permanent residents. Immigration reform legislation must fix this misunderstanding.

Immigration is a major concern to Americans. We need our lawmakers to do more than simply address the problem of illegal immigration. We need them to solve it.

The current Senate bill is bound to fail. When Congress returns, lawmakers should revisit it and begin fashioning an immigration bill that serves our nation as a whole. Let's slow down a bit and get this right.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

First appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times