The common slogan of supporters of the immigration-reform bill under debate in the U.S. Senate is that our immigration system is "broken." It raises the question: Who broke the immigration system?
A careful look would lead you to only one answer: The government broke it.
To illustrate that point, consider a highway with speed-limit signs and toll gates. What do you suppose would happen if most drivers knew that the cops condoned speeding or that the tollbooth attendants ignored toll violators? Do you think most drivers on that road would obey speed limits or pay tolls? Of course not. That is the situation with our immigration system. Foreigners know that nobody is serious about enforcing the law on the immigration highway.
As a naturalized American who took the trouble to immigrate legally, I consider it utterly preposterous that high officials in our federal government who should take a serious approach to immigration enforcement are instead lenient on illegal immigrants but turn around and say the system is "broken." Such leniency is particularly troubling when you consider that it discourages rank-and-file immigration officers from enforcing the law as they should.
Perhaps the most flagrant instance of the government's contempt for — and defiance of — immigration laws was the executive order issued by President Obama last summer that halted the deportation of illegal immigrants who were 30 years old or younger. It is estimated that some 1.5 million people were thus made exempt from deportation. As if that was not damaging enough, the executive order also allowed the exemption to apply to those who have a criminal record of up to two misdemeanors. It is one thing if such an exemption applies only to minors — but to 30-year-olds?
Think about the message that it sent. The highest official of the country essentially declared that not only is your illegal presence here something you should not be ashamed of, but that you could also have committed two misdemeanors and you would still deserve special protection.
Nevertheless, Mr. Obama is not wholly culpable for America's immigration fiasco. His predecessor, President Bush, was notoriously inept at immigration enforcement. During the Bush years, enforcement at worksites was virtually nil. To make matters worse, he unashamedly pursued an amnesty.
Given the federal government's incessant undermining of our immigration system, it was only a matter of time before that corrosive attitude percolated down to state governments. Consequently, many state governments have launched their own assault on the immigration system by openly defying it.
Currently, there are at least 10 states that allow illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. For instance, an American kid from Ohio who goes to college in California has to pay more than double what an illegal immigrant in California pays for that same education.
Of course, there are other, equally egregious benefits for illegal aliens. Considering that an illegal immigrant's mere presence here is illegal after all, he has no right to even use a sidewalk, let alone drive on our highways, and you would think no government should even consider giving him a license. Wrong. A growing number of states — at least eight, so far — issue licenses to illegal immigrants.
Even when some states refuse to capitulate to illegal immigrants and instead take tough measures — as Arizona and Alabama have done — what does the federal government do? It sues them for enforcing the laws that the federal government enacted in the first place. Instead of thanking these states for defending the law, the Obama administration slapped them in the face by taking them to court.
What is the message received by foreigners watching all this? Hey, you can come to America illegally, stay here illegally, even commit a few misdemeanors, but federal officials will make sure you get special protection to stay in the country, and state officials will make sure you get a license to drive, a college education for less money than an American pays, and a slew of other benefits. If any state requires you to prove your legal right to be there, don't worry — federal officials will sue that state on your behalf.
In short, it's leaders in government, at both the state and federal levels, who have broken our immigration system. How do these same incompetent leaders propose to fix this broken system? By breaking it even more and legalizing millions of aliens, thus rewarding them for illegal behavior.
That is what the Senate immigration bill is — a reward for illegal immigrants. Anyone who thinks it is a serious measure against illegal immigration is kidding himself.
Ian de Silva is an engineer who has interests in politics and history.