January of 2004, when President Bush first proposed his
"comprehensive immigration reform," it has become increasingly
evident that there is a sharp disconnect on this issue between the
political elites in the nation's capital and the values and
concerns of average citizens. This disconnect is evident even in
the terminology chosen to discuss our immigration and border
security problems, so it should come as no surprise that an
acceptable solution has proven elusive. We can't hope to find a
solution until we have some agreement on the problem.
used the term "illegal immigration" here only because in this city,
it is the way people are forced to talk about illegal aliens. But
traditionally, and in federal law, there is no such thing as an
who is in this county legally is either here as a legal immigrant
or has a "non-immigrant visa," meaning a tourist, student, or
temporary worker visa.
someone enters our country by unlawful means, he is by law an
illegal alien, not an illegal immigrant.
this confusion in language is deliberate. It is an effort to
confuse the public and allow politicians to talk glibly about "the
rights of immigrants." The rights of immigrants are already
protected in law, so it is the status of illegal aliens we are
ago in Denver, 600 people from 80 countries took the oath of
allegiance in a naturalization ceremony on a beautiful day in front
of City Hall. Those 600 people did it the right way, and they are
welcomed with open arms by all Americans. Until they took that oath
of allegiance, their rights as green-card holders were on a par
with citizens, with the exception of the right to vote. Illegal
aliens, on the other hand, are in a totally different category of
law and their future ought not to be discussed under the
umbrella of "immigrant rights."
to be able to agree that the heart of the problem is the
continued flow of illegal aliens into our country.
to be able to agree that whatever other immigration problems we
face, they cannot be addressed until we have an answer to these
questions: How do we control our borders so we know who is
entering our country? How can we stop uninvited persons from
entering-both across our borders and through our ports of
to be able to agree that lax border enforcement poses a national
security risk to every American.
problem of unlawful entry into our country is intellectually,
morally, and politically separate from other issues related to
immigration. I believe the President's attempt to roll these
separate problems into one so-called comprehensive plan has
caused much confusion and needless delay in fixing our broken
It is one
of the great misfortunes for the nation and the Republican Party
that over the past three years the White House has proven to be
tone deaf on border security and immigration reform.
President continues to repeat the same red herring argument, which
he used again recently in his August 5 weekly radio broadcast, that
the nation needs to find a "rational middle ground" between the
"two extremes of mass deportation and amnesty."
further confuses the debate by insisting that amnesty is "automatic
citizenship," and that nothing else can be called amnesty. The fact
is there is no such thing in history or in immigration law as
"automatic citizenship," and H.R. 4437 does not propose "mass
deportations." Yet neither fact deters the President and his
army of propagandists from repeating the same non sequiturs month
interesting question for Washington policy wonks to study is
whether the intellectual confusion preceded the political
confusion or was in fact a deliberate tactic to advance a political
agenda. The American people want clarity, not confusion, and
wrapping a half dozen different immigration-related problems into
one bundle of proposals is not the way to address any of
been the White House that has been out of step with the mainstream
of the Republican Party, not Tom Tancredo.
flattered that the Wall Street Journal called the idea of a
border fence "Tancredo's Wall," but the reality is that the
mainstream of the Republican Party-indeed the American
mainstream-wants border security now and consideration of other
attempting to fix the most urgent problem connected to immigration
policy and suggesting that the other problems can wait. That
approach does not make me "anti-immigrant." This approach is in
keeping with the old adage that when you find yourself in a
hole, the first thing to do is: stop digging.
or not we have a new guest worker program, we first need secure
we have increased or decreased legal immigration, we first need
other proposals makes no sense unless we first have secure borders.
It has been a mystery to many observers why so many smart people do
not see our broken borders as a barrier to immigration reform. Yet,
on closer examination, the reason for this confusion is not hard to
been a deliberate effort by many to obfuscate the matter by telling
the American people they cannot have border security without a
guest worker program, without an increase in legal
immigration, and without granting amnesty to all or most of
the illegal aliens who have come across our borders without our
that the only reason we do not have a solution to the problem of
illegal immigration is that the majority of American people feel
insulted by that argument and will not support proposals based on
such inverted logic.
to fix the borders first is so obvious that ordinary citizens
suspect the motives of politicians who do not want to do it.
And they are right to have such suspicions.
Minutemen patrol on the Arizona-Mexico border during the full month
of April in 2005 demonstrated to the entire world that the
flow of illegal aliens across the border can be controlled by a
physical presence on the border.
Minutemen project was the turning point in the national debate over
illegal immigration-not some policy paper published in Washington,
D.C., or any speech by any politician. The action of citizens
themselves tore down the wall of denial that policymakers and
bureaucrats had so carefully constructed.
citizens understood that the border can be made secure by the
simple addition of adequate manpower, the debate changed. Citizens
will not trust leaders who insult their intelligence by
claiming we have to provide additional ways to enter the
country legally before we can stop illegal entry.
leaders in Washington must chart a new course by admitting to the
American people that we can fix our broken borders and that we will
that all parties and factions can and should come together to do
this for the good of the nation, and that all other proposals be
put aside until we can demonstrate to citizens that we have
actually achieved secure borders-not talked about them, not
promised them, not adopted a plan for them, but actually
achieved secure borders.
also important to remember that this is not a partisan issue. Our
national security, sovereignty, and identity are not items for
hear that unless the President's proposal or some similar
amnesty plan is adopted quickly, the Republican Party will lose the
Hispanic vote. I reject such thinking, and I will reject any
legislation that is predicated so blatantly on pandering based on
ethnicity or race rather than sound policy for all
bill passed last December, Representative Sensenbrenner's H.R.
4437, has been widely called the "enforcement first strategy" to
distinguish it from the "comprehensive approach" touted by the
proponents of a mass amnesty as found in the Reid-Kennedy bill, S.
Congress and the American people have good reason to be wary of any
such plan that merely promises border security in exchange for
another amnesty. We learned from the disaster of the 1986 amnesty
that both border security and interior enforcement must be clearly
demonstrated, not merely promised.
national debate of the past year has revealed the unfortunate truth
that the executive branch of our government is dead set against
having genuinely secure borders-and I mean not only the White
House but also the State Department, the Justice Department, the
Commerce Department and, sadly, even the Homeland Security
Department. This political fact of life means Congress must not
only enact a plan for secure borders but must also monitor and
oversee the implementation of that plan at every stage until it is
summer, a proposal was floated that supposedly combines the obvious
need for secure borders with the presumed need for a guest worker
program. That idea is a key feature of the widely discussed
Hutchison-Pence plan. Yet as attractive as it may look at first
reading, it is fatally flawed.
"sequencing" of border security, interior enforcement, and guest
worker plans is valid in principle-in fact, I included it in my own
legislative proposal in 2005. However, to be viable in
practice, the various stages of the sequence must be separated by
years, not by weeks or months, and each stage should involve
separate legislation that can be debated and examined in great
detail, then enacted as our experience, our knowledge, and our
confidence in enforcement grows. They cannot be enacted as elements
of a single plan.
doubts that it will take years and not months to achieve real
border security, they need only look at the plan announced by the
Bush Administration this past month. It is a multi-billion-dollar
contracting program to use the latest technology to build
effective barriers, and it will take up to six years to complete
the construction project. If we take DHS at its word, we need a
six-year trigger for any "sequencing plan," not a two-year
at least three things fundamentally wrong with the Hutchison-Pence
is not a true compromise. Proponents of a general amnesty for all
12-20 million illegal aliens still get all they want with only
a two-year delay, whereas proponents of border security get only a
promise of what they want-halting all illegal entry into the
country and serious enforcement of immigration laws.
second thing is that the proposal is dishonest about the
matter of offering a path to citizenship for the "temporary
workers" authorized. The Hutchison-Pence proposal permits
these "temporary workers" to remain in the U.S. for the better part
of 20 years, and at the end of that period allows them to obtain
permanent resident status, and ultimately citizenship.
They are also permitted to bring their families. These workers are
not going to be "temporary," and for the proponents to lead the
public to believe they are temporary is plainly
thing wrong with the plan is naive or shallow thinking about
"triggers" and "sequencing." The real issue is not two years versus
four years or even six years for the waiting period between
enactment of border security plans and implementation of a
guest worker program. The real problem is that there is no
"trigger" that cannot be sabotaged by open borders advocates within
the bureaucracy. As we saw in 1986, if the Administration is
given a bill that contains enforcement and guest worker/amnesty
provisions, they will take the amnesty and leave the
give you an example from within the Border Patrol
theory, secure borders can be achieved next month by effective use
of the military. In reality, the "trigger-certification" proposal
in the Hutchison- Pence plan does not envision or require genuine
border security, only a pale imitation called "operational
control," which is to be certified by the Border Patrol and then
announced by the White House.
"operational control" is a term used throughout the Border Patrol's
"Strategic Plan" published in 2005 by the Bureau of Customs
and Border Protection. It is on their Web page.
inconvenient truth is, "operational control" can mean anything the
Border Patrol and the White House want it to mean. The one thing it
has never meant in any Border Patrol mission statement is
preventing all illegal entry into the country.
that President Bush would fail to "certify" border security in two
years even if secure borders were only "substantially achieved"-the
phrase used in Representative Pence's earlier draft legislation-is
either embarrassingly naive or deceptive by design. For any
triggers mechanism to be successful, the triggers must be objective
and outcome-based, and must be certified by a vote of
and Security Implications-What is at Stake
to secure our border-or moving forward with an amnesty or new
guest worker program-also has security ramifications. Look,
for example, at the current political crisis in Mexico following
the recent presidential election.
in Mexico City have vowed to establish a parallel government
that could result in an intensification of already high tensions.
Six years ago, Mexicans and the rest of the world thought that,
perhaps, Mexico had arrived to a new era in democracy. Now, it is
hardly an exaggeration to say that Lopez-Obrador's loyalists could
provoke a civil war.
Hugo Chavez-like Lopez-Obrador is successful in igniting this
simmering powder keg- either provoking a civil war or seizing
power-foreign investors will panic, the peso will plummet, and
what is left of the Mexican economy will collapse.
Calderon, the election winner, has attempted to calm the situation,
in part by making overtures to Lopez-Obrador supporters with
promises of slowing, or even rolling back, hard-fought
economic reforms. While this course of action may serve some
short-term gain, if he follows through on these ill-advised
promises, Mexico's economy will stall or stumble. Either
alternative points to a larger exodus of Mexicans bound for the
United States than we see today.
context, the need to secure the borders becomes much more acute,
and the notion of discussing an amnesty or new guest worker
program more absurd.
important and long neglected component of our immigration system,
and one that is critical to a successful immigration system, is
for assimilation to take place, two things are necessary: a desire
on the part of immigrants to assimilate and the political will for
our government to require assimilation.
ways, both of these elements are currently lacking.
legal and illegal-are coming in very large numbers from the same
part of the world. This has enabled them, in many cases, to remain
in separate cultural enclaves.
matters worse, government institutions are not facilitating
assimilation. In fact, we are in many ways doing just the opposite.
Bilingual education requirements, bilingual ballot mandates,
and proposals in cities like Washington, D.C., to allow
non-citizens to vote all underscore this problem.
most Americans up to the scope of this problem were the mass
protests for "immigrant rights" we saw around the country this
year. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets waving
foreign flags and unapologetically demanding that America adjust to
their cultures rather than the other way around.
protests, perhaps more than anything else, turned the tide of the
immigration debate. Those protests made it clear to many Americans
that we are failing as a nation to assimilate new
can construct the physical and political infrastructure needed to
stop the flow of illegal immigrants and assimilate the legal ones
already here, we cannot even begin a discussion about what the
right number of immigrants or guest workers to admit might
Strategy: Enforcement Works
Congress does not enact key enforcement provisions to achieve
border security and immigration law enforcement, proponents of
the enforcement strategy will carry the battle to all 50
states and into a thousand local communities. Illegal aliens will
begin to self-deport as more and more states adopt measures to
discourage the residence and the employment of illegal
Senate rejects the "enforcement first" approach by refusing to
enact serious enforcement legislation this year, advocates of
border security and immigration law enforcement should move to a
new strategy, a strategy aimed at local initiatives in lieu of
strategy will be called, simply, "enforcement works."
enforcement and border security have not been attempted in 40
years, so there is no basis for creating new amnesty plans until
enforcement has had a chance to show its real-world impact.
Enforcement is a common-sense approach that the American people
understand and support.
factor that will change the political dynamic is expanded and
coordinated grassroots citizen activism to pass and enforce laws at
the state and local level, which will simultaneously put increasing
pressure on Congress to mandate the enforcement of existing federal
main policy goals of this local effort would be the
in state law for employment eligibility verification through
the Basic Pilot Program and denial of business licenses to
effectively turn off the jobs magnet;
that all companies doing business with state or local
governments verify employment eligibility;
that all local law enforcement agencies identify and turn over to
Immigration and Customs Enforcement all criminal aliens who pass
through local jails and state prisons;
of access to social services not mandated by federal
for proof of citizenship to register to vote and a photo ID
by state audits the true taxpayer cost of all services provided to
illegal aliens, including the services mandated by federal
courts-health care, K-12 education, and all the benefits bestowed
by "birthright citizenship" on the children of illegal
by local officials for federal reimbursement of costs
associated with illegal aliens (the main value lies not in the
federal reimbursement but in the process of documenting the
for judges to deny bail to illegal aliens charged with DUI or any
of "sanctuary cities" through penalties in state funding to
of sub-contracting laws to hold employers accountable for hiring
that all local law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal
Colorado, and Arizona have enacted some of these proposals, and
more will be enacted soon if Congress fails to fulfill its
responsibilities. Success at the local and state level will build
more pressure for action in Congress.
these goals through a coordinated program of citizen activism
will lead to the election of pro-enforcement public officials-from
city hall to the statehouse, as well as Congress and the White
strategy will energize and employ a nationwide network of citizen
activists to hold public officials at all levels
not accept as inevitable an amnesty that undermines our nation's
sovereignty, our workers' jobs, our communities' hospitals, or our
children's schools. It does not accept a need for increased legal
immigration as a prerequisite to stopping illegal
works" is not a slogan. It reflects what we must do as a first step
to get control of our nation's immigration system. The entire
system is broken, including the management of our 322 Ports of
over 4,000,000 aliens now in illegal status, people who entered
legally as tourists or students or temporary workers but did
not leave when their visa expired. Our government has no reliable
way to track our visa arrivals, to know when they leave or don't
leave, or to find them and deport them if they don't
US-VISIT program is still not implemented five years after the 9/11
attacks. Yet some supposedly serious lawmakers want to burden
the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with ten to twenty
million additional background checks and visa applications in a new
guest worker program. That is a recipe for catastrophe.
public is beginning to understand that the lack of serious
enforcement permeates our entire immigration system, not only our
physical borders with Mexico and Canada. Until we can get
agreement that enforcement of our immigration laws is a
serious task requiring serious measures and dedicated
resources, all other reforms are futile.
to start is with border security, because secure borders are a
precondition for control of immigration at all levels. Once we have
achieved that and demonstrated a commitment to immigration law
enforcement, we can move on to more complicated
the enforceability of any proposal-will be the key issue on
many fronts, because our whole immigration system is burdened by a
history of incompetence, corruption, and failed management
sooner we can demonstrate the ability to enforce our immigration
laws effectively, the easier it will be to move forward with a
meaningful overhaul of a broken system. That's why I see
enforcement not as a delaying tactic, not as a short-term,
half-way solution to a larger problem, but as the key to addressing
all of these problems.
immigration enforcement a "new strategy" because it has never been
tried; it has only been given lip service.
1986 amnesty legislation, we tried amnesty without
it's time to try enforcement without amnesty.
Honorable Thomas G. Tancredo (R) represents the 6th District
of Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives.