By Hans von Spakovsky
President Donald Trump has kept the promises he made to voters about immigration.
At his direction, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security have resumed enforcement of our immigration laws. They are going after sanctuary cities that harbor criminal aliens; stepping up removals of illegal aliens; hiring more border agents and immigration judges; intensifying security efforts along the border; ending the unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; and restricting the entry of aliens from terrorist safe havens who pose a danger to our national security.
In other words, Trump is faithfully executing the law as written. He is the first president in decades with the political courage to take a needed stand on our illegal immigration problem.
That said, the immigration framework released by the White House last week raises a number of serious questions. For example, the proposed deal would provide amnesty and citizenship to nearly 2 million illegal aliens (and probably more), as well as citizenship to another 4 million aliens who aren’t even in the country yet.
Much to Like in Immigration Framework
Yet there is much good in the framework, too. The president wants a $25 billion “trust fund” for “the border wall system, ports of entry/exit, and northern border improvements and enhancements.”
Although the idea of a “trust fund” sounds good, there really isn’t such a thing under federal law. The only acceptable way of ensuring the funding for enhanced border security that Trump wants (and the country needs) is if Congress provides an immediate appropriation—not just an authorization for future funds—of $25 billion.
If funding is what the White House wants, then that is what it should demand from Congress: an appropriation. And that appropriation needs to also include funds for interior enforcement, not just border security.
The president also wants “hiring and pay reforms to ensure the recruitment and retention of critically-needed personnel,” as well as changes in immigration courts “to improve efficiency and prevent fraud and abuse.” This, too, has policy merit.
He wants to “ensure the prompt removal of illegal border-crossers” and “criminal aliens, gang members, violent offenders, and aggravated felons.” That makes sense.
But to add teeth to that, the White House should insist on legislation that empowers immigration judges to enforce their own removal orders, with the assistance of U.S. marshals. Currently, almost a million unenforced deportation orders have piled up at the Department of Homeland Security.
Lacking in Some Key Areas
One crucial element missing from this framework is something the president himself has talked about: making E-Verify mandatory for employers.
E-Verify is the secure, online federal system employers can use to make sure the workers they hire are citizens or at least legally entitled to work in the U.S. That, along with increased prosecutions of employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, is required to decrease the employment prospects that attract so many illegals and keep them here.
If the ability to work illegally in the United States dries up, thus depriving illegal aliens from sending money back to their relatives in another country, we will see large numbers of illegal aliens self-deporting.
Mandatory E-Verify and employer prosecutions are essential elements of a successful immigration enforcement system.
Even more problematic is the framework’s deal for the so-called “Dreamers.”
Until now, the discussion has centered on what to do about the 690,000 beneficiaries under President Barack Obama’s unilateral Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump quite properly announced that he was ending this unconstitutional executive action.
DACA covers those who supposedly entered the United States illegally before their 16th birthday in 2012. Many of them lack basic English language skills and educational requirements to be successful members of society. Yet those fundamental requirements were routinely waived by the Obama administration.
More Generous Than DACA
But the proposed framework goes further than dealing with DACA. It offers amnesty and a 10 to 12-year path to citizenship to over a million more illegal aliens.
The framework would expand eligibility from DACA to “a total population of approximately 1.8 million” aliens. That means Homeland Security resources dedicated to trying to process the applications of legal immigrants—those who have followed our rules and not come here illegally—would be stretched even further to process a million illegal aliens.
Keep in mind that the background and criminal histories of the vast majority of current DACA beneficiaries were never vetted by the Obama administration. Just as with the 1986 amnesty deal in the Reagan era, this amnesty deal would act as a magnet to attract even more illegal aliens into the country.
The framework wants to put an end to extended chain migration (which the left now calls “family migration”), so only spouses and minor children can be sponsored by citizens.
That’s something that must be done, but this new rule will be applied only prospectively, not retroactively. It means that, while aliens who become citizens after the new rule becomes effective would not be able to sponsor citizenship for members of their extended families, chain migration would not actually end for at least a decade, since at least 4 million aliens are already on the sponsorship waiting list.
Additionally, the Diversity Visa Lottery program—which disregards the education or skills of immigrants or whether they have any family or economic ties to the country—would be eliminated. Those visas would be reallocated “to reduce the family-based ‘backlog’ and high-skilled employment ‘backlog.’”
No Deal Is Forever
Keep in mind this most important fact: Even if the president gets everything he wants in this framework, it may not last. As soon as control of Congress changes, lawmakers can revive the Diversity Visa Lottery program, reinstate extended chain migration, and impose new rules on Homeland Security that restrict its ability to detain and remove illegal aliens.
In other words, Congress could reverse almost everything it has supposedly agreed to do with one exception. Amnesty and citizenship, once given, are virtually impossible to revoke.
Congress should not enact immigration legislation that rewards law-breaking, incentivizes illegal behavior, or provides benefits and preferential treatment to illegal aliens ahead of legal immigrants.
A good deal would feature a sustained period of increased border security and interior enforcement, which in turn would result in a significant decrease in the flow of illegal aliens into the county and substantial reductions in the number of illegal aliens inside the country.
Once that is accomplished—and only then—should we even consider what to do about those illegal immigrants who remain in the country.
Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative. Read his research. Article published at The Daily Signal.
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