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Editor’s note: This is the first offering in an ongoing debate about U.S. immigration policy, featured exclusively at WND. This column by The Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven Camarota will be followed by a rebuttal in the coming days, and specific policies and proposals will then continue to be debated by knowledgeable experts and activists.

The current discussion of reforming America’s immigration system assumes that we actually have a policy. But our failure to enforce our laws for decades and the resulting illegal immigrant population of nearly 12 million means we really don’t have a policy. The first step of reforming the system should be to actually enforce the law.

In the 1990s, a bipartisan commission headed by the late Barbara Jordan, a civil rights icon, summed up how a properly functioning immigration system should work: “Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave.” Until we show we are serious about enforcing our laws, talk of reform is meaningless. Worse, we will simply be repeating the mistakes of the past.

In 1986 Congress passed the IRCA amnesty law, giving legal status to 2.7 million illegal aliens with the promise that from then on the government would enforce the law. The illegal population is nearly 12 million today. The list of broken enforcement promises and outright inducements to illegal immigrants is nearly endless.

Although it became illegal to hire illegal immigrants in 1986, we still don’t require employers to verify the legal status of new workers, even though the online E-Verify system has been available for years. Government documents show that there are 872,000 illegal immigrants who have been specifically ordered removed by an immigration judge but who have never been made to leave the country. Only about 40 miles of the U.S. border actually has double fencing, even though the Secure Fence Act of 2006 required 650 miles. The U.S. Treasury has told banks it’s OK for illegal aliens to open bank accounts. The IRS knowingly gives out tax ID numbers to illegals and processes billions in tax refunds and direct payments to them each year.

Congress has mandated eight separate times the creation of a system to track the arrival and departure of temporary visitors (tourist, guest workers, students, etc.), yet there is still no such system in place. Between a third and a half of illegals are visa overstayers. State governments have sanctuary policies, give in-state tuition, driver’s licenses and other benefits to illegal immigrants. Of course, the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill, S.744, has no provision requiring the state to end these practices in the future, even as it give amnesty to illegal immigrants already here. Even the current administration’s claim of record deportations turns out to have been grossly inflated.

S.744 makes the same tired old promises of enforcement tomorrow for amnesty today. The Senate bill grants immediately legal status to the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in the country including work authorization, travel documents, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and a host of other benefits before any enforcement has to take place.

In effect, illegal immigrants get a “green card lite” immediately. Once certain border security measures are met, S.744 allows them to upgrade to a full green card, which then leads to citizenship. The key point here is that amnesty comes first, and even if enforcement is never implemented, they can still keep their lite green cards indefinitely. In fact, even the provision keeping them from full green cards and citizenship can be waived by the secretary of Homeland Security. Anyone who argues that the law will actually be enforced once the illegals get their amnesty is either gullible, ignorant or dishonest. If we are serious about enforcement, then we should do it first. Then we can have a national debate about whether amnesty makes sense for some illegal immigrants.

Enforcement would involve many steps, but the three most important are: First, require all employers to use the E-Verify system and penalize those that violate the law. Second, use real barriers and agents (not “virtual fencing”) to control the border. Third, create a check-in-check-out system for temporary visa holders and those using border crossing cards so that we will know who has overstayed.

Not only does S.744 put amnesty first, but its enforcement provisions are very weak. The check-in-check out system in the bill never applies to ports of entry at land borders, where a large share of the overstays begin. The mandated use of E-Verify is not required for five years, and it never applies to existing workers. The amnesty provisions themselves are an enormous invitation to fraud because the burden of proof is on the already overwhelmed immigration bureaucracy, not the illegal-alien applicant.

In addition to amnesty and promises of future enforcement, S.744 also doubles future legal permanent immigration from 1.1 million a year to more than 2 million a year. It also doubles the number of guest workers allowed into the country. All of this at a time when the share of working-age Americans not working is at record levels. There are nearly 59 million Americans (16 to 65) not working, an increase of almost 18 million compared to 2000.

The share of Americans of virtually every age group, race and education level holding a job has been in decline for more than a decade. Real wages for almost all workers, even college graduates, have either stagnated or declined since 2000. The Senate bill increases both unskilled workers and skilled workers, even though there is zero evidence of a labor shortage in this country.

The reform we need in our legal immigration system is to prioritize the interests of American taxpayers and workers. We should follow the recommendations of the aforementioned Jordan Commission and limit legal immigration to the spouses and minor children of American citizens, genuine refugees and a modest number of highly skilled individuals. We should eliminate the visa lottery and the chain migration of adult children, brothers, sisters and others.

Reducing immigration would take pressure off the labor market, the health-care system and schools. A reduction today would also help the assimilated 40 million legal immigrants and their young children already here, just as the reduction in the 1920s followed by four decades of lower immigration facilitated the assimilation and integration of immigrants after the last great wave of immigration.

Enforcing our laws and bringing down the level of legal immigration to a more manageable level of perhaps 3 to 4 million a decade would clearly be in the interest of our country. Amnesty, promises of future enforcement and dramatic increase in legal immigration as the Gang of Eight bill does may serve the interests of corporate America but not the American people.

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