Congress Examines Immigration Enforcement Efforts

Congress Examines Immigration Enforcement Efforts

September 10, 2007

Congress will raise questions about the Bush administration's immigration enforcement efforts again this week as the Senate holds a second confirmation hearing for Julie Myers, acting assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, this week, and as Americans observe the sixth anniversary of 9/11.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., introduced a bill in the House of Representatives July 10 that would strengthen efforts to ensure employers do not hire illegal immigrants. The Secure Borders FIRST (For Integrity, Reform, Safety and anti-Terrorism) Act of 2007 (HR 2954) aims to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain employment, largely seen as the magnet for those who remain in the United States unlawfully.

Lamar Smith, R-Texas, a staunch supporter of the bill, explained the rationale behind it in a discussion July 30 at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“Border security equals national security,” Smith declared. “Illegal immigrants depress wages and often take jobs from legal immigrants. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, low skilled workers lose an average of $1800 a year because of competition from illegal immigrants from their jobs. That is a huge economic hit.”

Smith also ridiculed the idea that illegal immigrants contribute to the American economy by paying their share of taxes.

“Some people say the taxes that illegal immigrants pay offset the cost of providing them with education, health care and government benefits,” he said. “But at very low wages, most illegal immigrants don't even pay income taxes. When they do, their taxes do not cover other government services like maintaining highways, providing for a national defense, and taking care of the elderly.”

He warned against enacting an open-ended guest worker program such as one supported by President Bush and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., among others. A guest worker program is only legitimately required in the agriculture industry, he argued, and any such program could be exploited by terrorists.

“Wouldn't it be easy for a terrorist to gain access to a guest worker program and legitimize his presence?” Smith queried. “In fact, it's already happened! The terrorist who blew up the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993 was admitted as an agricultural guest worker, although he had no connection to agriculture.”

Enforcing the Law

Smith cited statistics that reflect estimates that half a million illegal immigrants enter the country illegally each year, adding to a pool of 12-20 million already in the United States. Meanwhile, the United States admits more than 1 million legal immigrants a year, he said.

Forty percent of illegal immigrants enter the United States on short-term visas and simply never leave, Smith estimated.

“There is no way to know who they are since the federal government has not developed the exist system required by law to keep track of who leaves our country,” Smith said. “That law was enacted 11 years ago and has been largely ignored by both Democratic and Republican administrations.”

In addition, the law passed in 1996 making it illegal to hire illegal immigrants is rarely enforced, he complained. Only four employers were fined for violation of the law in 2005.

Smith called for increased investigations of wrong or missing Social Security Numbers to identify illegal immigrants. He also called upon the Bush administration to increase staffing for immigration investigators and Border Patrol agents and detention beds for housing illegal immigrants being processed for return to their home countries.