- - Friday, January 17, 2014


Rep. John A. Boehner and other House Republican leaders are huddling behind closed doors to draft a set of “principles” for immigration reform that they intend to unveil at their upcoming retreat on Jan. 29.

Let me save them some time. There is one — and only one — principle for true immigration reform: Like any other public policy, it should serve the greatest interests of the greatest number of Americans. Clearly, very few if any public policies conform to that principle — hence, Congress’ 8 percent job-approval rating — but few fail the test as thoroughly as our current immigration policy.

Sadly, there is little reason to expect that the principles for immigration reform the House leadership will put on the table will do much to improve the current situation. Aside from the standard blather about needing to secure the border, the House agenda — much like the bill passed by the Senate last June — will be driven largely by the demands of business lobbyists.

There is nothing principled about granting business interests even greater access to cheap foreign labor, when some 92 million working-age adults in the United States are outside the labor force — most not by their own choosing. Millions more American workers are losing their grip on the middle class as their wages stagnate or decline, or work in dead-end jobs.

Granting amnesty to millions of people who broke our laws and churning out green cards to accommodate the demands of would-be immigrants and businesses that want to hire them is the antithesis of principled reform.

Amnesty for illegal aliens is inherently unprincipled. It requires that law-abiding citizens and legal immigrants — the people our immigration laws are supposed to protect — cut a deal with the people who broke our laws. Even worse, it provides immediate and irrevocable rewards for the people who have refused to play by the rules, in exchange for government promises of future enforcement that Americans justifiably think will never be kept.

Once legal status is granted, it can never be revoked. There is no conceivable political circumstance under which millions of “provisional immigrants” would ever revert to illegal status, much less be required to leave the country. It is merely an interim status on the way to full citizenship, regardless of whether our borders are ever secured, or laws barring the widespread employment of illegal aliens are ever implemented.

Principled immigration reform must affirm the reason why we have immigration laws in the first place: They exist to protect the economic, social and security interests of the American people. Recognition of this core principle has been missing entirely from the current debate about immigration reform. That principle is nowhere to be found in the bill already passed by the Senate, S.744, and there is little reason to think that it will be included in the forthcoming principles offered by the House Republican leadership.

Immigration reform must begin with tangible evidence that our immigration policies are serving the interests of the vast majority of Americans. That does not mean merely devising a plan to secure our borders; it means actually doing it over a sustained period of time. It does not mean proposing legislation requiring that every employer electronically verify workers’ eligibility; it means actually having a universal system in place and a demonstrated resolve to hold employers accountable.

Principled reform of our legal immigration process requires that we select limited numbers of immigrants based on an objective assessment of their likelihood to complement our existing labor force, not compete with it. Immigration must not short-circuit the need for American businesses to cultivate, train and fairly compensate the tens of millions of people who are now unemployed or on the fringes of our economy.

Those do not appear to be the principles the Republican leadership will unveil later this month. Mr. Boehner’s choice of Rebecca Tallent to serve as his chief adviser on immigration policy indicates that the business lobby will be calling the shots in the House. Ms. Tallent, who comes to the job from the business-financed Bipartisan Policy Center, by way of Sen. John McCain’s office, is on record supporting immigration on demand.

The nation’s most influential business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has asserted that it “will pull out all the stops” to achieve its immigration agenda in 2014. That agenda is clearly defined as amnesty for an estimated 12 million illegal aliens and access to still more foreign workers of all skill levels.

Far from being principles for reforming our nation’s immigration system, they are a blueprint for the demise of the American middle class, which once made this nation the social and economic envy of the world.

Dan Stein is president of Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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