December 21, 2010 | WebMemo on Immigration
Last weekend, the United States Senate voted not to proceed to a final vote on the House-passed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This bill would have given legal permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who agreed to attend college or enter the military. In this way the bill would have granted amnesty to around 2.8 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S.
Now that Congress has rejected the “amnesty” strategy once again, it is time for the Administration to put this unrealistic approach aside once and for all and begin a serious, practical, and honest approach to fixing America’s broken borders and flawed immigration system. Pushing the issue off on the next generation or using immigration as a tool to win votes through amnesty is not only irresponsible but wrong in terms of national security, the rule of law, and economic prosperity.
Not a New Problem
The number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. topped off at around 12 million. Since the recent economic recession began, numbers have decreased to around 10.8 million. In 1986, the U.S. attempted to handle the issue by granting amnesty to the 2.7 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S. at that time. This amnesty, however, worsened the illegal immigration problem, encouraging more individuals to cross the border illegally and stay in the U.S.
The issue of immigration has become increasingly political, with both political parties using immigration—and, subsequently, amnesty—to try to gain a voting advantage in future elections. This technique has repeatedly failed, because Americans understand that this is a serious problem that will not be solved through a mass amnesty. In fact, the lack of a smart immigration policy has considerable impacts:
Amnesty Is Not the Only Option
Amnesty supporters claim that the only way to solve the immigration problem is to institute a mass amnesty or to provide smaller amnesties for select populations, like that of the DREAM Act. The lesson of 1986, however, is that an amnesty would, in fact, increase illegal immigration levels, encouraging a new generation of immigrants to come here illegally.
So what is the answer? Clearly, the immigration problem cannot be ignored—doing nothing is not a strategy. However, this process should not begin with an amnesty. The right strategy for immigration should include incremental reforms aimed at the following:
The Right Kind of Reform
Additional options may become reasonable once they are allowed to operate over time; policymakers should consider those options at that point. Regardless, the right kind of immigration system will always be one that is capable of maintaining rule of law, encourages economic prosperity, and keeps the nation secure. Future immigration debates should focus on these goals.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.