Where’s the teeth? Flake-Gutierrez immigration bill doesn’t have any

I would like the opportunity to respond to the op-eds by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) on their immigration reform proposal (April 26).

Let me start by defining amnesty. To me, pardoning lawbreakers and rewarding their crime with citizenship and jobs is amnesty. Simply because you make illegal immigrants pay fines and sit through English classes does not change the simple fact — they are proposing an amnesty.

In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act provided legal status for undocumented aliens already present in the country. It was passed with the promise of tougher enforcement, which was never realized. The law required illegal immigrants to wait, pay a monetary fine and learn English. Sound familiar? Black’s Law Dictionary categorizes the 1986 law as an amnesty. Following the introduction of that law we saw an immediate spike in illegal immigration. (This was mirrored when we passed the 245(i) amnesty and when President Bush first announced his amnesty proposal.) The 1986 law was touted as the solution to our illegal immigration problem. But more than 10 years later, amnesty law in hand, our problem is even worse.

Again with the Flake-Gutierrez bill we are promised “tough enforcement.” But if you actually read the bill, its provisions are mostly meaningless and toothless authorizations, thrown together with requirements for some “tough” reports and “tough” directions to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement laws we already should be enforcing. In implementing some of these “tough” laws, it requires DHS to consult with the government of Mexico, because we all know that the government of Mexico wants us to get tough on illegal immigration.

Another “tough” provision severely limits the ability of state and local law enforcement in assisting with our immigration laws. And on top of that, it gets “tough” on those who are detained while breaking U.S. immigration laws — by making taxpayers provide them with individual group counseling, daily access to recreational programs, private facilities and clothes that are not “prison-style” uniforms or jumpsuits.

What Reps. Flake and Gutierrez don’t discuss is the cost associated with their bill. The Heritage Foundation recently released a report, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Households to the U.S. Taxpayer,” by Robert Rector. The report analyzes what low-skilled households cost the U.S. taxpayer. In reading this report, we find immigrant households (legal and illegal) receive about three dollars in benefits for every dollar paid in taxes, resulting in a net fiscal deficit of $18,500 annually. The illegal aliens who are here are already costing us. An amnesty would ensure they stay here permanently and cost us even more in the future, not to mention the fact that they would bring over additional family members, which would cost the American people significantly more. Using Rector’s numbers, the new Flake-Gutierrez guest worker program would cost $7.4 billion. Their general amnesty — or if you prefer, changing the status of illegal to legal — would cost a staggering $54.4 billion a year.

I think we all can agree that our immigration system is broken. We have tough enforcement laws on the books but they are not being enforced. We have an underfunded, overwhelmed Citizenship and Immigration Service that has stated it will be unable to handle the huge number of illegal immigrants the guest worker proposals would bring in. And we have a Border Patrol that is under siege by coyotes, criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and yes, even terrorists. The only question is: How do we fix the problem? I believe that we must approach it from a national security standpoint. We need to start by fixing our immigration system first before we add tens of millions of people into it. But that is an issue for another article.

Royce is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.