Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I lift my lamp beside the golden door

A few decades ago elephants were in danger of being hunted into extinction in the savannahs of Africa because poachers were killing them for their tusks, which they sold for a large profit. It was clear that enforcing the laws against killing elephants was not practical because they couldn't field enough agents to cover the vast regions of Africa, and poachers could easily avoid the authorities. People around the world realized that the ivory trade only existed because of the demand, and paying high prices for ivory drove the poachers to meet that demand in order to reap a profit. Most nations responded by banning the import or sale of ivory. The market dried up, poachers couldn't sell their illegally obtained ivory, and elephant populations rebounded.

Similarly, we know how to stop illegal immigration in its tracks. The question is whether we have the political will to do it. The dirty little secret behind illegal immigration is that both parties benefit from its continuation. Democrats see illegal immigrants as a large pool of future Democrat voters, and build their power base on pandering to illegal immigrants to curry favor with Hispanic voters. Republicans depend on illegal immigrants as a pool of dependable low-cost labor. Without them, businesses would have to spend more money paying workers, paying their taxes, providing them with benefits, pensions, and health care, and all the other costs which they avoid by hiring illegal immigrants. In addition, Republicans have bought into the myth that we lose elections because we have failed to reach out to Hispanic voters, and that supporting amnesty is the only way to secure their votes. History refutes this argument, as Republicans won a significantly smaller portion of the Hispanic vote in 1988, after Reagan passed amnesty than they did in 1984.

The proposal being discussed by various Senators is only slightly different than other amnesty bills which have been tried or proposed in the past. It seems to be light on enforcement of our existing laws and heavy on rushing to wave a wand to legalize millions of people whose first act on American soil was to violate our laws. There is no reason to believe that this plan will result in border security being increased to the point where it effectively prevents most illegal crossings. The predictable result will be another flood of people coming across the border to claim the offer of amnesty and legal status to stay in the country. Obama's assurance in his State of the Union that they would have to go to the back of the line of people waiting to immigrate legally makes no sense. The line is in their home country, not in the United States.

So how could we stop illegal immigration immediately? Border security is the most common answer, and that is important from a national security standpoint as well as for the protection of our national sovereignty in controlling who enters and leaves the country. The American-Mexican border is nearly 2,000 miles long, and the American-Canadian border is another 5,500 miles. In addition, the United States has 12,000 miles of coastline. It is far too easy to tunnel under, fly over, swim or boat across these borders, so keeping millions of determined people out of the country is a futile effort.

We need to dry up the demand for illegal immigrant labor just as we did with the ivory trade.

The essential first step is having a dependable system to identifying and documenting legal workers. We have a system called E-Verify which is intended to allow employers to verify the legal status of their employees. But E-Verify has a lot of problems and is not accurate enough to be highly effective. In addition, it does not have an adequate way to positively identify the employee, making it vulnerable to fraud. The system needs to be improved to the point where it is 99.99% accurate or better, probably by incorporating some sort of biometric identification.

Once a robust E-Verify system is in place, employers have no excuse for hiring people who are not legally authorized to be employed in this country. It is already illegal to hire an "undocumented worker", but those laws are largely unenforced. We need to enforce those laws to the point where it is not economically advantageous to hire illegal immigrants. This means imposing stiff fines for a first offense and jail time for the executives of companies who commit subsequent offenses. An employer may hope to save $20,000 a year by hiring an illegal immigrant, so the fine per infraction should be several times that in order to ensure that the payoff is not worth the risk. I would suggest a fine of $50,000 per infraction. Employers could prove that they are in compliance simply by producing the E-Verify approvals for all of their employees. By aggressively enforcing these laws, demand for illegal immigrant labor would quickly dry up, and just as poachers no longer hunt elephants, the flood of people illegally entering the country looking for work would slow to a trickle.

The fact that illegal immigration continues at such a startling rate when it is within our power to stop it indicates that politicians of both parties want illegal immigration to continue. Until the political will to enforce our immigration laws exists, don't expect real solutions.