Enforce Immigration Laws Already on the Books

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Commentator Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies says he doesn't support any of the measures Congress is considering on immigration. Instead, he says the U.S. should simply enforce the law it already has banning the employment of illegal immigrants.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today both bills that are tying Republicans in knots should be before the Senate. Majority Leader Bill Frisk's bill would require employers to make sure that workers are in the country legally, and it would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.

The bill moderate Republicans and Democrats support would allow illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship. In the second of two commentaries, Steven Camorata of the Center for Immigration Studies says he can't get behind either approach.

Mr. STEVEN CAMORATA (Center for Immigration Studies): Everyone agrees that with twelve million illegal aliens, America has a crisis. Some advocate mass amnesty coupled with increased legal immigration. Others favor mass deportations. But there is another option: attrition through enforcement.

The mass round-up of millions is neither politically likely nor practical, and no matter how amnesty is dressed up by its advocates, such as Senators McCain, Kennedy or Specter, it mocks legal immigrants and can only spur more illegal immigration. Besides, we've tried it. In the 1980's we legalized 2.7 million illegal aliens, yet we now have three times that many.

One of the biggest problems is that illegal immigrants are overwhelmingly unskilled. My own research indicates that 80% have no more than a high school degree. Legalized immigrants would still compete with the poorest and least educated American workers for jobs. Census data shows that since 2000, 1.5 million Americans with no more than a high school degree have left the labor market. They're not even looking for work.

A number of studies indicate that immigration can explain a lot of this decline. When more educated and affluent Americans say illegals only take jobs Americans don't want, what they really mean is illegals only take jobs they don't want.

Illegal aliens create significant costs for taxpayers, mainly because they're unskilled, not because they're illegal. People with relatively little education typically don't earn very much so they pay very little in taxes, regardless of legal status. My research indicates that legalization would triple the net fiscal drain because legalized immigrants would access more social programs.

Another provision of the bill passed by the House is receiving a lot of attention. It would make it a crime to assist illegal immigrants in their illegal activity. Some activists charge that charities and churches that help illegal immigrants would also be prosecuted. In fact, this provision really just is acting as a protest magnet, diverting the attention of anti-enforcement activists away from more meaningful provisions in the bill.

No priest or food bank operator would ever be arrested for religious or charity work. Of course, if a church knowingly allows smugglers to use its basement, it should be prosecuted. But it's not a crime to give mass to illegal immigrants or to feed them, and it's already a crime to facilitate illegal immigration.

The solution to illegal immigration is to enforce the ban on hiring illegal aliens. In 2004 only three employers in the entire country were fined for hiring illegal immigrants. Businesses must be made to use the national data bases that already exist to insure workers are here legally. The IRS must stop accepting bogus social security numbers. We need to deny illegal aliens' driver's licenses, bank accounts and in-state college tuition, and we need more agents and more fencing at the border.

Less than four percent of our southern border is currently fenced, and there are fewer than 2000 border patrol agents on duty at any one time. If America becomes less hospitable, many more illegal immigrants will decide to go home. A policy of attrition through enforcement will save taxpayers money, it will help vulnerable American workers and it will restore the rule of law.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Steven Camarota is director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies.

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