Saturday, January 10, 2004

The Bush administrations amnesty-guestworker proposal should be promptly pricked and all the presidents men brought back in touch with reality.

The idea is yet another mass amnesty of alien lawbreakers, this time in the guise of a massive “guestworker” scheme just as the president prepares to visit Mexico.

But the administration is putting the cart before the horse. Before even mentioning the idea of legalizing the illegal alien population (growing ever larger), the first priority should be getting serious about law and order.

Virtually no attention is paid to interior enforcement. The Clinton era policy remains effectively in place: Well make it a little harder at the borders, but once in America we wont bother you.

First and foremost, we need to apply “broken windows” policing to immigration violations. This model, which has proven extraordinarily effective in New York City and elsewhere, gets tough on “minor” offenses. It thereby shows the criminal element we mean to enforce the laws on the books, and even seemingly “small” crimes will be taken seriously.

Foolishly, the Homeland Security Department scrapped one of the most effective, promising, “broken windows” tools in the immigration context. DHS recently killed the NSEERS alien registration program.

Males 16 years or older here on a temporary visa from 25 terrorist-sponsoring countries had to register with immigration authorities. Some 83,000 aliens showed up to register.

About 14,000 registrants were breaking our immigration laws and held in custody. Another 143 were arrested on criminal charges, and 11 were connected to terrorism. That is, nearly 17 percent of NSEERS registrants were violating our laws.

By actually enforcing these laws, thousands more illegal aliens left the country on their own. Many illegal aliens fled to Canada or their own country; they “self-deported.”

If serious about enforcement and the rule of law, the administration could restore NSEERS. Also, it could faithfully implement the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. A new report by NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies found the Department of Homeland Security missed 13 of its 22 statutory deadlines. Nine have yet to be implemented.

This would mean bringing on line an integrated, biometric data system on foreigners, checking the names of aliens from “visa waiver” nations at ports of entry and deploying machines that can read Border Crossing Cards.

The CLEAR Act would empower state and local law enforcement. It would provide the tools and federal support to process and deport illegal and criminal aliens with whom police officers come in contact while doing their normal duties.

The administration should insist on the Barbara Jordan Commissions recommendations on legal immigration. This would focus immigration admissions on nuclear family members, modestly reduce legal immigration levels, relieve the overwhelmed bureaucracy, free up resources, speed real family reunification for parents and minor children, and advance homeland security.

Amnesty of any kind, on a mass scale or targeted, is ill-advised. We tried that with the 1986 mass amnesty, and it backfired. The 1986 amnesty legalized some 3 million illegal aliens who had been here before 1982.

What was supposed to be a one-time thing to clear the slate ended up overwhelming the immigration bureaucracy, causing long backlogs, spurring new chains of chain immigration, inciting much heavier illegal immigration, nearly doubling the illegal alien population in less than a decade and stimulating the proliferation of entrenched criminal enterprises to smuggle in human cargo.

In other words, what the Bush administration proposes is like combating drug addiction by giving drug abusers as much of their narcotic of choice as they want. The harmful, dangerous consequences are still there and worsened, only now its “legal.”

People who should know better have been among the worse offenders. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who is supposed to be the chief immigration enforcement officer, let slip a call for amnesty while in Miami Dec. 9. The president himself, while saying he opposes “blanket amnesty” but now proposing blanket amnesty in installments, is being poorly served by political advisers who would pander to Latinos and Mexican President Vicente Fox with this amnesty by another name.

And aiding illegal aliens to work legally in this country would be a painful slap in the face to the nearly 18 million American workers who currently cant find a full-time job.

Bottom line, this administration is entertaining the idea of rewarding lawbreakers for their lawbreaking, on a massive scale. We need first to re-establish the rule of law as it relates to immigration laws. Only down the line should we even contemplate how to deal with any lingering illegal population.

James R. Edwards Jr., coauthor of “The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform,” is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.

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