In the heated debate over immigration reform, we seldom hear this simple truth uttered by anyone: Amnesty is the enemy of true immigration reform.

Amnesty for persons in the country unlawfully exacerbates and magnifies every single problem our immigration system faces, yet advocates for “comprehensive immigration reform” never fail to make amnesty the centerpiece of their plans. This contradiction reveals a different agenda. They aim not to fix our broken immigration system but to destroy it.

An attempt at genuine immigration reform would identify specific problems and propose specific solutions, with each proposal debated on its merits regarding its costs, ramifications and so forth. Instead, the amnesty advocates start with their political agenda and then argue backwards to find justifications for it.

Let’s take border security as an example. Eighty percent of Americans believe we need border security as a precondition for immigration reform. No one can deny that without secure borders, laws attempting to set limits or rules for immigrating to the United States are meaningless. Yet instead of fixing the problem, we see a hundred different excuses and dodges.

Yes, Border Patrol apprehensions are down by 40 percent from the high levels of 2001-2005. Does it mean we do not have a border-security problem? No. Every newspaper in Mexico and Central America is full of stories indicating that the exodus northward will resume when the U.S. economy recovers from the recession. Besides, how many Americans think that 700,000 unidentified persons entering the country illegally each year across our northern and southern borders is an acceptable level of security?

Concerned about the flow of illegal aliens over our border? Don’t miss Tom Tancredo’s book, “In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security”

Conceptually and pragmatically, border security must also include an effective system for enforcing expiration dates for tourist and student visas and guest-worker visas. None of that exists today. Thirty to forty percent of the illegal aliens in the country are visas “overstays,” and the program Congress mandated to fix that problem back in 1996, the US VISIT program, has yet to be implemented.

Advocates for amnesty want to postpone fixes to these concrete problems in a rush to reward the very people who have created them.

Another example of a problem that will be made worse by a general amnesty is immigration benefit fraud. Every independent study of the DHS Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services concludes that it cannot handle its present workload competently. Today there is a five-year backlog of applications, fraud investigations and complaints.

Congress knows that over 30 percent of green cards awarded through marriage to a U.S. citizen are fraudulent, yet this problem is only made worse when priority is given to “clearing up the backlog” instead of adjudicating each case properly. Obviously, this problem is not solved or alleviated by adding millions of new cases to its workload, yet that is what a new amnesty will do.

What should be done? The first principle of “legislative reform” ought to be the same as in medicine: First, do no harm. Congress should reject any legislative proposal that purports to solve our problems with a bill so convoluted no one will read it or understand it. We all know that the longer and more complex a bill, the more mischief is buried in its details.

True immigration reform must be tackled one problem at a time. This approach will earn the trust and respect of the American people, which is the opposite of what will happen with another push for amnesty.

The amnesty bill introduced in December in the House by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is a perfect example of a bill designed not to fix anything but to create total chaos. It has 91 Democrat cosponsors but not a single Republican.

The good news is that the Gutierrez bill is only a wish list, a candy-store menu for the open-borders community, not a serious legislative proposal. As such, it has zero chance of ever coming to a vote in the House, let along being enacted into law. The bad news is that Republicans have no strategy of their own for reforming our immigration laws to end the dangerous amnesty-by-stealth system we now have.

A true reform agenda would consist of a dozen immigration-reform bills, each targeted to a specific problem. Republicans could start by resurrecting the Secure Fence Act, passed by the Republican majority in December 2006 and then sabotaged in 2007. Three years later, we have only 360 miles of fencing on our 1,900-mile southwest border.

In the present environment, with amnesty zealots in power in the White House and Congress, it would be a mistake for Republicans to attempt their own “comprehensive reform package.” Any Republican plan that attempts to be comprehensive would merely become a vehicle for a “bipartisan compromise” that would include an amnesty provision.

In 2010, Republicans should develop a reform agenda that targets specific problems Americans really care about. Next week, in Part 2 of this essay, we will explore what those reforms might look like.

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