August 4, 2008 | WebMemo on Immigration
One of the most contentious issues in the debate over immigration reform is how to deal with the estimated 12 to 15 million illegal aliens in the United States. Supporters of "comprehensive" reform often falsely present the issue as a choice between permanent legalization and the forced deportation of each and every illegal immigrant. As the latter is unacceptable, the only reasonable position, "comprehensive" reform proponents contend, is legalization, the approach adopted by the amnesty provisions of the Senate's immigration legislation.
The "legalization" approach is deeply flawed; it has been tried before and failed miserably. The better solution is to rely on law enforcement and market forces to end America's addiction to undocumented labor and to create legitimate opportunities for immigrants to continue their contributions to keeping America safe, free, and prosperous.
As part of this superior approach, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently initiated a pilot program to encourage those unlawfully present to leave voluntarily. Congress should build on this initiative with measures creating better alternatives to illegal immigration.
Enforcing the Law Works
Enforcing immigration laws is essential to restoring respect for the rule of law. Recent research suggests that enforcing U.S. immigration law deters individuals who either illegally entered the country or over-stayed their visa from remaining unlawfully in the United States. For instance, a study by the Center for Immigration Studies reports that -- as a result of increased efforts to enforce immigration laws -- the unlawfully present population has dropped by over a million.
Enforcement efforts, however, should be undertaken in a manner that is both effective and compassionate. To that end, DHS recently announced a one-month program to be piloted in five U.S. cities (San Diego, Santa Ana, Phoenix, Chicago, and Charlotte) for assisting those unlawfully present to leave the country. Called Operation Scheduled Departure, the program offers these individuals the opportunity to avoid detention and have up to 90 days to put their affairs in order before they have to depart the U.S. The only requirement is that the individual have no criminal record or pose risk to public safety or national security. As a DHS official recently pointed out, "This is a great opportunity for those advocacy and faith-based organizations who have asked us to look at other ways to conduct fugitive operations to really step up to the table and bring their clients to us and work with us to schedule their departure."
An Opportunity for Congress
Congress should monitor the effectiveness of the pilot program and consider how it could assist in building a national program to help voluntarily reduce the unlawfully present population while providing further incentives for lawful migration. Such assistance should include:
DHS should be lauded for Operation Scheduled Departure. Congress should learn from this initiative and take responsible measures to help reduce the unlawfully present population in the United States in a manner that is effective, fair, compassionate, and gets employers the legitimate workers they need to help grow the U.S. economy.