Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
How can you tell if the most recent incarnation of “immigration reform” being resurrected by the Democrat-controlled Congress is a bad piece of legislation? The answer is easy: Because Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has taken a lead role in getting it passed.
The last time Kennedy took up reforming the nation’s immigration standards, America was irreparably harmed. For it was Kennedy who, four decades ago, helped put in place the very system that mightily contributed to today’s illegal immigration nightmare.
The 1965 Immigration Reform Act, the creation of radical, far-left “Down With The Establishment” ideologues hellbent on reversing what had been an effective and manageable system of legalized immigration into the United States since 1924, were steering the civil rights juggernaut smack dab into the heart of traditional America. In its wake, the ideologues, partnered with like-minded members of Congress, destroyed a rational quota system that, according to FrontPageMag.com’s Ben Johnson, “had regulated the ethnic composition of immigration in fair proportion to each group’s existing presence in the population,” and was serving the nation well.
In a misguided application spirit of the civil rights era, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations saw these ethnic quotas as an archaic form of chauvinism. Moreover, as Cold Warriors facing charges of “racism” and “imperialism,” they found the system rhetorically embarrassing. The record of debate over this seismic change in immigration policy reveals that left-wingers, in their visceral flight to attack “discrimination,” did not reveal the consequences of their convictions. Instead, their spokesmen set out to assuage concerned traditionalists with a litany of lies and wishful thinking.
In signing the legislation Oct. 3, 1965, President Johnson claimed: “This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives.” Wrong.
Proponents like Johnson and Kennedy repeatedly claimed the new legislation would not lead to a huge and sustained increase in the number of new immigrants, or become a vehicle for globalizing immigration to the U.S.
But besides tripling the level of immigration by 1995 than had existed in the 30 years before the new law was passed in 1965, other claims by its supporters have been radically disproved.
“In 1965, Ted Kennedy confidently predicted, ‘No immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge,’” Ben Johnson wrote. “However, political refugees qualify for public assistance upon setting foot on U.S. soil.” As I pointed out in my 2003 book, “Illegals,” non-citizen aliens in the country without permission – especially those from south of the border – soak up billions of taxpayer dollars a year in health care, education, infrastructure and incarceration costs.
Rampant, uncontrolled immigration has also cost Americans jobs – jobs that used to pay a competitive, livable wage until employers in the states figured out they could illegally hire an avalanche of “undocumented” immigrants for one-third to one-half less money. Again, Kennedy’s 1965 comments are as telling today as they were misleading then when he claimed changes in the law 40 years ago “will not cause American workers to lose their jobs.”
Again, today, one of the immigration reformists is Kennedy. And again, he and those siding with him are couching their bill as a “comprehensive” solution – a warm-and-fuzzy characterization that makes a horrendous bill sound like a solid piece of legislation destined to solve our immigration problems once and for all. And, if you only read Kennedy’s website promoting this bill, you might be tempted to fall for the rhetoric. According to his own statement, the new legislation would:
Increase the amount of U.S. Border Patrol agents from 14,000 to 28,000;
Increases the number of immigration investigators and anti-smuggling officers;
Adds some fencing along the southern border and creates more detention center space;
Requires illegal immigrants already here to “come out of the shadows,” pay a $5,000 fine, learn English, work and pay taxes.
Sounds “comprehensive,” doesn’t it? But peel back the layers of politicalese and you can see where the “out” clauses are buried.
Simply increasing the number of Border Patrol agents and investigators won’t help. First of all, the figure of 28,000 is not nearly enough; plus, the U.S. already has the amount of trained personnel it needs to beef up a border presence. It’s called the U.S. military; protecting our national borders from invasion – armed or otherwise – is the job of the Defense Department. The goal should not be to “arrest” border-jumpers, which is a civilian law enforcement function, but to prevent them from entering our country illegally in the first place. If you are caught at our borders trying to enter illegally, you get sent back – not “thrown into the system,” which just costs the American taxpayer extra money for processing and incarceration. Chronic repeat offenders and/or genuine criminals get turned over to civilian authorities.
Fencing is good – especially the two-tiered fencing erected outside of San Diego along the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal immigration agents there have personally told me how effective it was in a) stopping illegal immigration and, in doing so, b) revitalizing – economically and cosmetically – areas along the border in both countries that had otherwise been blighted by so much traffic, drug smuggling and other unintended consequences. We are the United States of America and we can build that kind of fence, if need be, all along our borders. We haven’t thus far not because we lack the financing, equipment, labor and technology, but only because there is no political will in Washington to do so. And that reason is simply no longer good enough.
Adding “state-of-the-art” surveillance technology is a misnomer. Despite advances in surveillance technology, such equipment is still prone to glitches that make it all but ineffective. Years before they made national headlines, I visited regions along the U.S.-Canada border in Washington state that were being monitored by some of these “high-tech” surveillance cameras and ground-traffic monitoring devices. Border agents there told me they had so many “false positives” – sightings of animals, for instance, as well as consistent break-downs – the multi-million dollar system was all but useless. What “technology” do we have available now that would change this reality? Nothing.
There is no substitute for the military’s adage of “boots on the ground” to ensure people who aren’t supposed to be here don’t get in.
“Requiring” illegal immigrants here to step up and identify themselves so we can make the pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English and all this other stuff is perhaps one of the most ludicrous of all provisions. Only a bona fide pipe dreamer could believe illegal immigrants already here would do such a thing. The other provision here to “require” all U.S. employers to verify they are only hiring “legal” workers is as misleading as it is disingenuous. It is already against the law for employers to hire illegal immigrants – which means there is already a requirement, for all intents and purposes, to verify their workers are in our country legally – and they’re not doing that. What’s going to force them to do so now – another “law”? Kennedy and Co. pledge to “hold accountable” all employers who don’t follow the new provisions, yet enforcement of the old provisions has been spotty at best and criminally absent at worst. Why are Americans expected to believe this new provision will be enforced more prolifically?
There is also this fact. At any point in the future, Congress can vote to de-fund any provision of any law they don’t like. So fences won’t be built, new agents won’t be hired and new technology won’t be bought. That’s just the way of Washington. Also, if enforcement of current laws is lax – we’re being told the system is “so broken it must be fixed” – why should we expect better enforcement of these new provisions?
Finally – and this point is critical – not all immigrants in our country illegally want to become Americans. Millions of illegals – mostly from Mexico and Central America – are only here to earn money they can’t earn in their own country. That’s why Mexico’s second-largest source of income is income its citizens living abroad send home to their families each year (about $20 billion annually – about the same as Mexico earns from oil exports and an amount that almost equals U.S. foreign aid to the entire world).
The policies the U.S. should be pursuing to curb illegal immigration should have as much to do with physical security as with helping average Mexicans reform their own country. The reason Canada, for instance, is no immigration or security threat is because Canada is a wealthy, stable country. If Mexico were as wealthy – and in terms of natural resources, labor markets and everything except lack of corruption, it is – Mexico would be as stable as Canada.
The last “immigration reform” effort saw the U.S. immigrant population skyrocket to more than 100 million in about 35 years; experts predict immigration-driven growth will put the U.S. population over 400 million by 2030. Will our uniquely American traditions, hard-fought and won with the blood and treasure of our forefathers and grandfathers, survive, or will they be replaced by unrecognizable third-world “traditions” that are anathema to our Constitution and way of life?
Will Congress eventually pass, and President Bush sign, an immigration measure that is ineffective and actually accomplishes the opposite of what it is supposed to do?
Time will tell, but if history is a guide, the answer is obvious.