January 24, 2007 | WebMemo on Immigration
In his State of the Union address, President Bush called for "an immigration system worthy of America-with laws that are fair and borders that are secure." He restated his dedication to reducing illegal immigration and creating legal opportunities that will keep the U.S. economy growing. And he spoke of the need to promote assimilation, making the legal path to citizenship a true lifelong commitment to American principles and the rule of law.
The President was right when he said that only a comprehensive solution to the challenges of border security and immigration reform will do; unless all the issues are addressed-illegal border crossings, unlawful presence in the U.S., security and criminal threats, the fiscal burdens on state and local governments, and the undermining of civil society-the consequences of today's immigration policy will continue to escalate. But while the Administration's proposal for comprehensive reform contains several positive elements-upon which the President must insist for his approval-it still contains a fundamental flaw.
The Bush Plan
The Amnesty Flaw
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. Indeed, previous Administration proposals (and legislation approved last year by the U.S. Senate) are very similar to the failed amnesty policy of 1986. As was the case then, amnesty now would only encourage further law-breaking. 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.
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."
Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.