- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

The Bush administration's trial balloon proposing amnesty for millions of illegal Mexican aliens, followed by an Aug. 9 meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft with high Mexican officials agreeing on "legalization" for these law-breakers, is politically naive and legally suspect.
No matter what name you call it, congressional approval of such a scheme would be the third major amnesty since 1986. Past amnesties only encouraged additional millions of poor people to sneak across our borders and foster low wages and poor working conditions that unscrupulous employers offer the illegals.
Consider this: An Immigration and Naturalization Service study found that, after 10 years in the United States, the average amnestied illegal alien had only a seventh grade education and an annual salary of less than $9,000 a year. We are allowing the creation of a huge, poor underclass.
Now consider the staggering costs. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the total net cost of the 1986 amnesty of 3 million law-breakers (the direct and indirect costs of services and benefits to the aliens, minus their tax contributions) totaled over $78 billion!
A few Democrat politicians want a mass amnesty for all illegal immigrants some estimates put the number as high as 9 million. If that ever occurs, it would dramatically skew the educational and skill level of legal immigration downward. As these residents naturalize and become U.S. citizens, they are also able to petition for their parents, children and relatives to come across the border. Will this help the high skills, high-wage economy Democrats and Republicans claim they are aiming for in 21st century America?
Current U.S. law says that unauthorized entry into the United States is a crime, and that the immigrant is to be deported. Legalization of their status sends the terrible message that law-breaking pays. It makes a mockery of the legal immigration process, whereby patient applicants wait years to become permanent residents. It is significant to note, too, that when Mexican President Vicente Fox addressed a Chicago crowd in July, it chanted "amnestia" every time he used the word "legalization."
In "America Balkanized," a 1994 study on the impact of immigration on national unity by expert Brent Nelson, the author warns that the ethnic map, at current rates, would soon "be a balkanized mosaic with regional strongholds for major groups. The result will be a melange of peoples, an America without Americans, which will be governable only through the adoption of the separatist mechanisms developed in Canada, Switzerland and Belgium." Just this month, in fact, the mainstream media reported that English usage the common tongue that helps binds us together as Americans is dropping dramatically in various regions.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, notes any legalization or amnesty would be "seriously flawed, if not dead on arrival," without a radical restructuring of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Congress knows that all too many immigrants in recent years have been rapidly and carelessly pushed through the system by the understaffed INS with the result that criminal background checks are waived and untold thousands of criminals end up on our streets. Look no further than the mid-1990s scandal at the INS's Miami Krone detention center to see how alien criminals were released willy-nilly into the general populace.
The INS as President Bush rightly proposed should be divided between an enforcement/deportation agency and a welcoming center for legal immigrants. Mexico's president has ordered a hard line deportation policy for its southern border in response to illegal immigration from Central America. The INS should take a page from Mr. Fox's book and reinstitute serious deportation policies; in fact, during most of the 1980s, a million illegals a year were effectively removed. INS investigators know where to find most of the law-breakers; the agency simply lacks the personnel and leadership to mount the thousands of raids needed to pick them up. In fact, during the latter years of the Clinton administration, workplace raids on employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers essentially stopped.
If there is another amnesty or stealth "legalization," today's low-wage undocumented workers will become tomorrow's disgruntled voters eager to support left-wing demagogues who promise handouts. That's what has happened in California. Yet even in California and four other states, the federal government refuses to reimburse state welfare and Medicaid expenditures for illegals, creating a conundrum for even the most liberal state lawmakers.
The answer is not simple, nor can we ignore the problem. Amnesties, guest worker programs and the like are stop-gap measures designed to defer what is pressing and critical. America needs a comprehensive immigration policy now.
Phil Kent is president of the Atlanta-based Southeastern Legal Foundation, a constitutional public interest law firm.


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