Everyone has heard the phrase, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." That's precisely the predicament that Congress is in today with the Senate's immigration proposal. Though perhaps well-intentioned, the Senate proposal repeats the mistakes of the past.
The Senate amnesty proposal is flawed for many reasons, but three in particular.
First, the Senate bill legalizes almost everyone in the country illegally before the borders are secure. It provides legalization first and enforcement later, if ever.
In 1986, Congress gave amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. It was agreed to with the promise of increased immigration enforcement and enhanced border security. Though the amnesty was enacted, the enforcement never occurred.
Now, more than 25 years later, there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Clearly, the 1986 amnesty didn't solve the problem of illegal immigration; it made the situation worse.
No matter how they try to spin it, the Senate bill is amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants. When you legalize someone who is in the country illegally, that is amnesty. The Senate bill gives legal status and, eventually, citizenship to millions of individuals who have disregarded our immigration laws.
The Senate plan makes promises of enforcement, but a closer look raises serious questions. For example, under the Senate bill, the Obama administration must come up with a way to achieve a 90 percent apprehension rate at "high-risk" areas of the border.
Why not secure 100 percent of the entire border? Of course, by limiting the focus to only high-risk areas, the Senate proposal will just push illegal immigration to other parts of the border.
In 2010, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that only 6.5 percent of the southern border is under "full control" of the Border Patrol. Real border security would cover the entire border, not just high-risk areas that are determined by federal employees in Washington, D.C.
An administration that doesn't want to enforce the law can easily game the system.
As we've seen in the past, amnesty without enforcement only leads to more illegal immigration. The Senate proposal issues an open invitation to enter the country illegally. Millions will do so before the border is secure.
Second, the Senate bill puts the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of American workers.
The proposal allows millions of illegal immigrants to work lawfully in the United States. That's a great deal for those who came into the country illegally. It comes at a high price for American workers, though.
The proposal allows millions of illegal immigrants to compete with American workers for scarce jobs, displacing legal workers and depressing their wages. With millions of Americans and legal immigrants underemployed, why enable millions of others to compete with them?
Over the past few months, we've heard a great deal about what's best for illegal immigrants. However, advocates of the Senate bill hardly ever mention two words: American workers.
Third, the Senate proposal treats illegal immigrants better than legal immigrants who have played by the rules. Under the Senate plan, legalization leads to green cards, and green cards lead to citizenship.
Many individuals who followed the law have waited years to obtain lawful status. Amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants sends the message to would-be immigrants that there's no benefit to following the rules. They can come illegally tomorrow, live and work in the United States, and sooner or later get amnesty.
Further, the assumption that we somehow owe amnesty to almost all individuals who are in the country illegally is misguided. America has the most generous immigration system in the world, admitting 1 million immigrants legally every year.
Though we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. We have the right to expect that individuals will respect our laws when coming to the United States.
Citizenship is the highest honor our country can bestow. It should be reserved for those who have followed the laws and come in the right way.
Rather than learning from the past, the Senate proposal again offers amnesty now and border security later, if at all. It would lead to reduced wages for American workers, and it would treat those in the country illegally better than those who have played by the rules and waited their turn.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and serves on the immigration subcommittee.