SMITH: Obama’s unmet New Year’s resolution

Lax immigration policies undercut promise to put Americans back to work

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Every year millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions in order to accomplish a goal for the following year but find it hard to keep them. These goals often range from losing weight to getting out of debt to finding a new job.

Following this tradition, President Obama made a New Year’s resolution to the American people in his weekly radio and Internet address on Jan. 1, 2011. He said, “Our most important task now is to keep that recovery going. As president, that’s my commitment to you: to do everything I can to make sure our economy is growing, creating jobs and strengthening our middle class. That’s my resolution for the coming year.”

But like most New Year’s resolutions, the president didn’t keep it. Mr. Obama’s lack of immigration enforcement over the past year undermines his goal and hurts American workers.

Just like skipping the gym and hoping to lose weight, not enforcing immigration laws and hoping to put unemployed Americans back to work is not an effective strategy. Exercise is a critical component of weight loss, and immigration enforcement is an important step to help put unemployed Americans back to work.

This year, administration officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new deportation guidelines that amount to backdoor amnesty and strike another blow at the 13 million unemployed American workers.

Under Mr. Obama’s new deportation policy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials would review all incoming and most pending cases before an immigration court. These changes could allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States without a vote of Congress.

In reviewing the cases, DHS political appointees have made clear that many illegal immigrants are not considered “priorities” for removal.

The changes could allow illegal immigrants to receive work authorization and could put even more U.S. citizens on the unemployment rolls. In fact, when illegal immigrants are allowed to stay in the United States and apply for work authorization, the Obama administration grants it 90 percent of the time.

Obama officials also have failed to meet their New Year’s resolution by cutting back work-site enforcement actions. Under this administration, work-site enforcement has plummeted 70 percent. This means there have been fewer arrests of illegal workers, fewer criminal arrests, fewer indictments and fewer convictions. As a result, 7 million illegal immigrants continue to work in the country, forcing unemployed American workers to compete for scarce jobs.

The president’s lack of immigration enforcement also depresses wages for American workers. The United States Commission on Civil Rights has found that illegal immigration has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American workers.

Immigration enforcement could help increase wages and job opportunities for low-skilled American workers. For example, after illegal workers are arrested and detained during work-site enforcement actions, many businesses replace them with American workers.

This was true when Georgia’s Crider Inc. lost more than 600 illegal workers after an ICE work-site enforcement action. The company increased wages a dollar an hour and attracted legal workers, primarily black Americans, from the local community.

At Swift and Co., a national meat-packing business, after ICE arrested nearly 1,300 of its workers, it, too, raised wages and found U.S. citizens and legal immigrants to hire from the surrounding areas.

This year, many unemployed American workers will make a New Year’s resolution to find jobs so that they can start earning a living for themselves and their families. If Mr. Obama wants to help these Americans achieve their goal and also keep his own New Year’s resolution, he must enforce all immigration laws. If he doesn’t, the president will go another year without meeting his resolution and many unemployed Americans will go another year without an opportunity to go back to work.

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

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