One of the most contentious issues in the debate over
immigration reform is how to deal with the estimated 12 million to
15 million people unlawfully in the United States. The legislation
recently proposed in the Senate (S. 1639) presumes that legalizing
these individuals must take precedence over other immigration
reforms and border security initiatives. However, "State Approaches
to Illegal Immigration," a forthcoming report organized by the
Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI), disputes
that assumption. The report argues for discouraging unlawful
presence by withdrawing many of the benefits and entitlements
granted by state and local governments.
The recommendations could serve as the foundation for a more
fair, practical, and enduring solution to the challenges posed by
dysfunctional immigration policies and broken border security.
Creating disincentives for unlawful presence and encouraging legal
migration is a superior alternative to the strategy of the Senate
According to TCCRI, state legislatures can undertake a number of
initiatives to discourage unlawful presence. The proposals
Enhancing Local Law Enforcement and Border Security.
Section 287 [G] of the Immigration and Nationality Act provided
states the means to effectively cooperate with federal Immigration
and Customs Enforcement officers for addressing local criminal and
public safety issues such as organized gangs, smuggling,
deportation of criminal aliens, and counterterrorism
Implementing REAL ID. The REAL ID Act establishes
national standards for driver's licenses and "breeder" documents
(such as birth certificates) used to obtain state identity cards.
States can only issue REAL ID-compliant documents to persons
lawfully in the United States. By complying with REAL ID, states
will help combat document fraud, identity theft, and other illegal
activities conducted by unlawfully present persons to obtain
government benefits and work authorization.
Denying Public Benefits Programs. States should close
loopholes that allow unlawfully present persons to benefit from
public welfare programs. Such programs should be structured so that
applicants can only be accepted after proving their citizenship via
Imposing Employer Sanctions. States can and should
sanction--through fines and withholding benefits--employers who
knowingly hire unlawfully present persons.
Ending Bilingual Education in Schools. Bilingual
education programs are ruinously expensive, make learning English
more difficult, and they slow the process of assimilation.
Education benefits also provide an additional incentive for
unlawfully present persons to remain in the United States for
protracted periods of time.
Ensuring Voters Are Citizens. The ability to vote is the
defining feature of U.S. citizenship. Yet at times, non-citizens
have voted in state, local, and federal elections. State
governments must protect this fundamental right by requiring a
valid ID for proving citizenship at the voting booth.
A Different Path
TCCRI offers a real, credible alternative to S. 1639. Changing
the South-North migration patterns from illegal to legal requires
steps to get the behavior of the marketplace back in sync with the
rule of law. That means: (1) enforcing U.S. laws and, (2) creating
a market that rewards and values lawful labor over undocumented
workers. Denying amnesty is one powerful disincentive to further
illegal migration. The TCCRI report offers a slew of complimentary
measures: meaningful citizenship verification for receipt of public
benefits; practical sanctions on employers; and denial of
educational benefits to unlawfully present persons. In short, civil
society should take away the myriad of advantages that enable and
encourage individuals to live illegally in the United States.
TCCRI's recommendations, in addition to quickly establishing
significant and practical legal opportunities for migrant temporary
workers, could significantly reduce the U.S. economy's addiction to
illegal labor. At the same time, the measures would encourage
individuals who are unlawfully present to accept responsibility for
their past decisions and choose to redress their status in the
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.