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Immigration laws on the books

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A point often lost in the debate over border security and illegal immigration is that many of the laws necessary to fix the problem are already on the books, but federal authorities have decided for political reasons not to enforce them. When Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, there were supposed to have been three major provisions of that immigration "compromise": amnesty for the 3 million to 4 million illegal aliens then estimated to be in the country; enforcement of our existing immigration laws in the future; and sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens. The federal government kept its promise on amnesty, which explains why we have between 12 million and 20 million illegals in the country. However, it failed abysmally when it came to enforcing existing laws and enforcement of sanctions against employers.

Today — more than two decades after Mr. Reagan signed that 1986 bill into law and almost six years after 19 foreign terrorists carried out the September 11 attacks — immigration enforcement is an empty promise. It has become a nice talking point for the White House and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, but a catch phrase that has little to do with what happens in the real world. The federal government, for example, is required to implement a system to record the departure of every alien leaving the United States. Washington is supposed to be working in tandem with state and local police to detain and remove illegal aliens that they encounter in the course of doing their jobs. All databases maintained by federal immigration authorities are supposed to be fully integrated. The federal government is required to have fully operational equipment at ports of entry to the United States that permits biometric identifiers (i.e. unchangeable physical characteristics such as fingerprints and iris scans) to be compared to passports, visas and travel documents. Yet, none of these essential law enforcement tasks has been completed.

During last week's debate on the Senate immigration bill, Sens. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, introduced a commonsense amendment stipulating that before illegals can receive amnesty, federal, state and local government must ensure that they are compliant with existing laws requiring that the border be secured and that persons illegally here be arrested and taken into custody. That amendment was defeated by a 54-42 margin, just hours before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the immigration bill from the floor.

Following are some of the laws Messrs. Coburn and DeMint would require the government to enforce before implementing amnesty:

{bullet} Find out who is leaving the United States. Under Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, the federal government is supposed to have in place a system to record the departure of every alien leaving the United States. The system would also match records of departure with records of arrival in the United States through the US-VISIT program. This is absolutely essential, because the Senate bill creates a new temporary-worker program — even though we currently have no way to monitor whether these "temporary" workers have actually left the country. The visa exit system created under the 1996 law was supposed to have been implemented by Sept. 30, 1998. The deadline was extended to March 30, 2001 — but the exit portion has never been implemented.

{bullet} End "sanctuary" policies that prevent many state and local police from enforcing border security. Today, there are approximately 15,000 employees in the entire Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the primary agency responsible for finding and detaining millions of persons here illegally. There are, by comparison, approximately 700,000 state and local law enforcement officials, but in urban centers like New York and San Francisco they are barred from cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities — in violation of Section 642 of the 1996 IIRIRA.

{bullet} Integrate databases as required by Section 202 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. If databases are not integrated, it increases the risks that information about criminal or terrorist activity may not be conveyed to immigration or law enforcement authorities when they encounter someone trying to enter the United States or in the routine course of their work. This problem must be fixed before putting out the welcome mat for tens of millions of people who first broke the law to enter the country and continue to break our laws by staying here illegally.

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