June 19, 2007 | Commentary on Immigration
Measure border security by results, not
Backers of the Senate's "comprehensive" immigration-reform plan are trying to revive the moribund measure by talking tough and spending big. It's not enough.
The Grand Bargainers that crafted the original deal behind closed doors have correctly deduced that the bill failed the first time around for one simple reason: The public doesn't trust politicians to crack down on illegal immigration.
There's good reason for this popular skepticism. A generation ago, the 1986 immigration reforms offered the same "grand bargain" of amnesty for illegal immigrants in exchange for vigorous enforcement of immigration law and enhanced border-security measures. Americans have lived with this bargain for 20 years now, and most have concluded it's a bum deal.
Far from putting a stop to illegal immigration, the '86 bargain served only to open the floodgates. Amnesty came immediately, but enforcement never arrived. As a result, the number of illegal immigrants soared, from 3 million then to at least 12 million today. That's at least one illegal immigrant for every 25 citizens.
Desperate to make the latest promise to tighten security sound sincere, the bill's advocates have added a new wrinkle to the old deal: an amendment promising to spend an additional $4.4 billion to enforce existing immigration policy and law. In the words of Sen. Arlen Specter, (R., Penn.), "It will give the American people confidence." Confidence that, this time, Congress really, really means it. Really.
The amendment's premise is nothing new. Whenever politicians want to show their "concern" and their "commitment" to solving a problem, they instinctively throw more money at it. It allows them to say they've "done something," even though the extra spending may not accomplish anything.
Spending is a false metric. In practice, it bears little relationship to results. Take the War on Poverty. Over the last 40 years we've spent more than $10 trillion in this battle. Yet progress in reducing the poverty rate still lags the gains registered in the "prewar" era.
Or consider the No Child Left Behind initiative. Federal education spending has soared nearly 40 percent over the last five years. Yet scores on national standardized tests show no improvement, and drop-out rates continue to rise.
Just as federal spending is no barometer of success in fighting poverty or improving schools, and it's no fit gauge for measuring success in securing our borders and enforcing existing immigration laws.
What will the government do with this extra $4.4 billion anyway? Virtually all of the useful security provisions in the bill - beefing up the border patrol, building border barriers, expanding detention facilities for illegals - are already on the books. In large measure, the new bill simply reiterates the security requirements contained in last year's Secure Fence Act. And Congress has already appropriated the funds for those measures.
The administration has already stated that it has both a plan and all the appropriations it needs to significantly improve border security and enforcement over the next 18 months. So what can the initiative possibly do with an addition $4.4 billion showered upon it, other than waste it?
The Grand Bargainers offer us the false metric of spending in the hope that it will give Americans a false sense of confidence that, this time, politicians really mean it when they say they're going to enforce the law.
Americans, though, are not likely to fall for this nonsense. The mood on the street is "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…"
They remain adamantly opposed to a Grand Bargain that grants immediate amnesty to 12 million people unlawfully present in the country. Poll after poll shows they want Congress to get control of the border first. Not throw money at the border, mind you. They want it under control.
To win the confidence of the American people on this count, Congress will need to establish true metrics: say a significant reduction in the number of illegal entries and illegal overstays of visas, as well as high rates of actual deportations for those ordered removed by a court of law.
For Congress to regain the confidence of the American public on the immigration issue it must first adopt meaningful metrics like these. It must then show the public that these standards are being met. Until we are convinced that the borders are secure and enforcement is certain, any plunge into wholesale amnesty is premature.
In the meantime, Congress, spare us your posturing. And spare us another $4.4 billion in wasteful spending. It just makes the cost of instant amnesty all the more outrageous.
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the National Review Online.