New Immigration Law? Enforce Old Ones First.

New immigration law? Enforce old ones first

Center For Immigration Studies
Wednesday, May 23rd 2007, 8:14 AM

Ted Kennedy, Jon Kyl and other senators are pitching their new immigration bill as essential to regaining control of our borders.

But do we really need another major law? The Bush administration still hasn't implemented various measures passed by Congress over the past decade and refuses to take other steps that are within its power. Given this neglect, it's hard to justify yet another bill – much less a piece of legislation that will run hundreds pages in its final form – on top of the existing pile.

Let's look at a few of the initiatives already on the books that have languished in bureaucratic or political purgatory rather than getting done:

Last year, Congress mandated the construction of more than 800 miles of additional border fencing. Only 2 miles have been built so far, and only 370 miles are scheduled to be finished by the end of next year. Wouldn't it make sense to finish all the fencing before discussing other measures?

Back in 1996, Congress required the development of an electronic check-in/checkout system at the borders and airports. The system, known in jargon as US-VISIT, is still not done, and there are no plans to fully implement it. Only a small fraction of foreign visitors are ever checked in, since almost all Mexicans and Canadians are exempt – and an even smaller fraction are required to check out, so we can't be sure if a visitor has left.

The Justice Department drafted a legal opinion in 2002 clarifying the right of state and local police to make arrests for violations of federal immigration law. This is vital, because the 700,000 state and local cops can serve as a force multiplier for federal authorities. But the Bush administration spiked this memo, keeping in effect a Clinton-era policy directive discouraging state and local use of immigration law.

The Treasury Department has told banks that they may offer accounts to people with the Mexican government's illegal immigrant ID card, the “matricula consular.” And the IRS gives illegal immigrants what's called an “Individual Tax Identification Number” to take the place of a Social Security number. Both of these measures help illegal immigrants embed themselves in our society – and neither one needs congressional action to change.

There's more, of course, including the administration's refusal to enforce the ban on hiring illegal immigrants until last year – a change designed to simulate toughness in the runup to the current bill. But the point of all these examples is the same: Congressional action is irrelevant until a demonstration by the President of a clear commitment to enforce the rules.

This insistence that the administration do its job isn't just whining. All these measures are part of an alternative tolegalizing illegal immigrants – a strategy sometimes called “attrition through enforcement.” The goal is to enforce the law, across the board, to reduce the number of new illegal arrivals and increase thenumber of current illegals who give up and deport themselves.

The illegal population would then start shrinking from year to year, instead of constantly growing, gradually transforming what is now a crisis into a manageable nuisance.

And we can get started without Congress passing a single new law.

Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank.