- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

As the Senate starts debating immigration legislation this week, missing will be one of the most important elements for any meaningful immigration reform. That’s the need to cut legal immigration.

In fact, the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee goes the wrong direction. It would blow the lid off some legal immigrant visas, almost doubling the permanent resident visas allotted yearly and giving out thousands more temporary visas.

Not only would the Senate bill bring in markedly more foreigners through supposed legal routes, it would amnesty the 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens already in this country. This profligate approach is a recipe for disaster.

Why is the Senate going the wrong direction, as compared with the U.S. House’s enforcement-first approach? Do we need higher legal immigration, as elitists suggest?

(1) Legal immigration and illegal immigration are two sides of the same coin. High legal immigration means high illegal immigration. When we’ve had lower legal immigration, we’ve experienced less illegal immigration.

The foreign-born share of the U.S. population has risen sharply over the last 40 years. So has the illegal alien component of the foreign-born population. Illegal aliens made up 21 percent of the foreign-born in 1980, a quarter in 2000 and 28 percent in 2005. Half of the top 10 source countries are also top illegal alien senders. These include El Salvador, China, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

(2) Mexico is the biggest source of both legal and illegal immigrants. Thirty percent of the foreign-born are Mexicans, and more than half of U.S.-resident Mexicans are illegal aliens. Mexicans make up 3 times the proportion of the next three sending countries combined (China, Philippines, India).

Mexicans will clearly benefit the most from much higher immigration and from another amnesty — leading to more of the same immigration troubles down the line, in spades.

(3) Amnesties have exacerbated our immigration problems in many ways. This one will be no different.

The illegal population replenished itself in less than a decade following the 1986 amnesty. The number of illegal alien residents doubled from 1990 to 2000, from 3.5 million to 7 million. By 2005, about 10 million illegal aliens lived in the United States — more than triple the number of IRCA amnesty recipients, triple the illegal alien population in 1980 and twice the level of illegal immigration in 1996.

The several mass amnesties over the last two decades severely mask the degree of illegal immigration. The 1986 IRCA amnesty legalized 3 million aliens. Three-fourths were Mexican. Amnestees gained full eligibility to sponsor additional immigrants, which swelled the ranks of both legal and illegal immigrants.

In fact, many “new” immigrants who receive a permanent resident visa each year have lived in America illegally for years. The New Immigrant Survey found immediate family immigrants who first came unlawfully typically made 2 to 4 trips illegally. They lived here 5 to 8 years before legalization.

(4) The ability to have “anchor babies” and the phenomenon of “chain migration” provide more lawbreaking opportunities. The Senate legislation ignores these critical flaws.

An estimated one-tenth of U.S. births — 380,000 in 2002 — are to illegal aliens. “Birthright citizenship” of their American-born child allows illegals a firmer foothold here.

An overly generous legal immigration preference system gives visas to grown children and their in-laws, aunts, uncles and cousins, and visa lotto winners — ahead of nuclear family members of legal permanent residents and regardless of individuals’ ability to contribute to America’s national interest.

This antifamily policy keeps parents and minor children, husbands and wives apart longer. It gives an incentive for illegal immigration. Such “chain migration” creates an entitlement mentality by bestowing technical visa eligibility on millions of distant relatives and puts immigration an “autopilot.”

(5) The New Immigrant Survey confirmed the inextricable link between legal and illegal immigration. It found two-thirds of adult immigrants had spent time in this country before receiving a permanent visa — a third illegally.

For Mexicans surveyed, 57 percent had illegally crossed the border, and 9 percent overstayed an expired visa.

Instead of increasing legal immigration and thereby exacerbating illegal immigration, Congress should cut legal immigration levels by half or more. This would reduce illegal immigration, too, if history serves as guide.

We already allot more than a million immigrant visas a year. This is 4 times higher than traditional levels. From 1776 to 1965, this “nation of immigrants” averaged 230,000 immigrants annually. And nearly 50 million foreign workers, immigrants and their children already live here. We can’t possibly need the volume the Senate would add.

James R. Edwards Jr. coauthor of “The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform,” is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute. This is adapted from a new backgrounder from the Center for Immigration Studies.

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