- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Critics of immigration enforcement often claim our immigration system is broken and that enforcement of immigration laws will not solve this problem. But this argument is flawed because we have never tried to fully enforce our immigration laws. Critics embrace the legalization of millions of illegal immigrants, a so-called solution that has been tried in the past and failed.

We have the means at our disposal to stem illegal immigration, but the Obama administration is going in the wrong direction.

For example, state and local governments can partner with the federal government through the 287(g) program to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws, yet the administration has weakened this successful program.

Work-site enforcement activities, which open up jobs for American workers and legal immigrants, have dropped by 70 percent under the Obama administration.

And E-Verify, a Web-based system that enables employers to verify the work eligibility of newly hired employees, remains voluntary. Expanding E-Verify and encouraging more businesses to use the program is an important step toward protecting jobs for American workers and eliminating the jobs magnet that draws millions of illegal workers to the United States.

Because our immigration laws are not fully enforced, millions of illegal immigrants are enticed to enter the United States each year because they know they are unlikely to be caught and sent home. Illegal immigration costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year, forces Americans to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs and drives down wages for legal workers.

Because we’ve never fully enforced our immigration laws across the United States, why not try? The facts show that when immigration laws are enforced, illegal immigrants leave on their own and wages go up for Americans and legal workers. In states that have passed tough new laws cracking down on the employment of illegal immigrants, the illegal immigrant population has declined.

Take Arizona, for example. In 2007, the Legal Workers Act was signed into law, requiring all employers to use E-Verify. Arizona’s illegal immigrant population then dramatically shrank. In fact, Arizona’s population of illegal immigrants of working age fell by about 17 percent.

Recently, local law enforcement officials in Phoenix conducted work-site enforcement activities at several Pei Wei restaurants and found the restaurants had employed many illegal immigrants, including dishwashers.

A local TV news report followed up afterward and found that hundreds of unemployed American workers lined up to interview for those jobs, including the dishwashing jobs that some claim Americans won’t do.

There are similar stories all across the United States. When Georgia’s Crider Inc. lost more than 600 illegal workers after work-site enforcement actions, the company increased wages a dollar an hour and attracted legal workers.

In light of these results, imagine what would happen if immigration laws were fully and consistently enforced across the country. The result of making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to take jobs in the United States would be to encourage them to leave and also to serve as a deterrent to those thinking about coming into the U.S. illegally.

We should try full enforcement of immigration laws. Unemployed Americans and hardworking taxpayers deserve no less.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.