- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

If the country is ever to make immigration great again, we can start by reasserting control over the entire policy process and make it work for the broader public interest. For too long, narrow, parochial and heavily politicized interests have used immigration either to depress labor cost or to increase political clout.

To make immigration great again for America, we must make it manageable, affordable and consistent with the nation’s other domestic priorities. That is not the case now. Here’s how to do it:

Make it affordable. Today’s immigration flow is extremely expensive because, on balance, the immigrants lack the skills and education to be competitive in a postindustrial information society. Those entering illegally are far less educated than the average native-born American, and because of our heavy reliance on family preferences, many immigrants entering the labor force are working at or just above the poverty level.

Sponsorship pledges have become meaningless; we now import a new generation of poverty every decade. Costs for education, housing, health care, added infrastructure and related services far exceed average tax payments; some portion of the aliens’ wages are also sent out of the country as remittances.

To make it affordable, the immigration flow needs to be cut back to about a third of today’s level, and immigrants must bring unique skills, talents and education that will expand the productive potential of the American economy.

The U.S. lost 3 million jobs last year; the continued influx of more than 1 million foreign workers makes absolutely no sense. Even before the current recession, mass immigration, encroaching globalism and outsourcing contributed to real wage decline for many American workers. A rational immigration policy will by definition include a “stress test” that assesses the impact of immigration on American workers and makes adjustments accordingly. Certainly, in times of rising unemployment, U.S. immigration policies must have a mechanism for reducing the influx.

Make it manageable. Today’s immigration flow is very poorly regulated. Why? The numbers of immigrants and non-immigrants (those on temporary visas) have exploded at a time when efforts to develop an effective interior enforcement strategy — including the development of an effective work authorization system — have been, and continue to be, opposed by a business/left wing coalition that combine for mutual advantage.

The challenge is neither technological nor logistical: It is political. Programs like E-verify (which checks legal status), work-site enforcement, state-local-federal cooperative agreements, expedited removal and repeat-violator sanctions will make the system work. They have already proven to work. Precisely for that reason, they are vocally opposed by the usual suspects.

State and local governments can also contribute to the effort by revoking business licenses of companies that hire illegal aliens, eliminating all nonessential benefits and services to those here illegally, and directing law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Another way to make it manageable is to cut the numbers, significantly. The interior enforcement capabilities of the country are simply overwhelmed by the size of the annual inflow — both immigrants and temporary visa holders. Unless we have a way of routinely identifying, locating and removing visa overstays, the size of the flow is unmanageable and unsustainable. At present, the federal government cannot even locate fugitive aliens under final orders of deportation. Something must change.

Make it rational. To cut back numbers, we must once and for all take steps to end what has come to be known as “chain migration.” Deciding who immigrates to America must, once again, become a matter of choice, not chance.

Current laws allow for endless chains of extended family members to follow a principal immigrant to this country. Under the existing system, most immigrants are admitted irrespective of their education, job skills or other factors that are likely determinants of their ability to succeed in this country and benefit American society generally.

Moreover, a policy that entitles extended families to immigrate creates pressure for ever higher levels of immigration, long waiting periods and growing frustration.

Make it advance the “people’s” priorities. For the past 20 years, immigration has served only two goals: depress labor costs and shift the electorate to the left. Business loves the first goal; today’s Democratic leadership and its left-wing allies love the second.

Lost in the mix are the broader public interests. Today’s policies conflict with other national priorities. These priorities might include quality education, affordable health care, labor equity and leverage, energy independence, aggregate greenhouse emissions, traffic and congestion — the list goes on and on.

At current levels of immigration, U.S. population is conservatively projected to increase by about 135 million people in just the next 40 years. Few Americans see any benefit to this sort of explosive and unprecedented growth — though most Americans are tragically unaware of where today’s mass immigration policy is taking us.

No public assessment has been undertaken on how that increase will affect everything from water to education to traffic to energy independence; yet each of these must be examined in light of today’s projections. In our view, overall immigration, which has consistently topped more than a million people annually, must be reduced substantially if we are to avoid becoming a massively congested, overcrowded and ecologically devastated nation.

Making it happen. None of this can happen until immigration policy is better insulated from partisan politics and special interest wrangling.

Today, the entire debate has degenerated into fierce, obstructionist name-calling amid rising public frustration at the lack of leadership in Washington. The country will only make progress when there is greater accountability for those who have continued to undermine reforms.

Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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