Attrition through enforcement

The week before last, to the relief of most Americans, the Senate rejected “compromise” immigration legislation. The plan’s failure was the latest in a series of defeats for President Bush. Once again demonstrating his political tone-deafness, however, Mr. Bush has vowed to intensify his lobbying efforts in the hope that he can round up a few more votes for his amnesty plan and pass it as early as this summer.

The dust had barely settled after the bill was defeated last week when its supporters began painting opponents as obstructionists. “If you don’t like our plan, then show us yours,” they cried. But this is disingenuous. For starters, many opponents have long articulated an attrition-through-enforcement alternative to the current state of immigration anarchy and to “solutions” like the Bush-McCain amnesty bill. The idea is simply to enforce our existing law.

Supporters of the “compromise” quickly dismiss this solution as overly simplistic. In truth, however, the real reason they resist this solution so vociferously is because their true focus is not to “fix” our broken immigration system, but to provide amnesty to the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens currently in the United States. The various enforcement bells and whistles attached to the larger bill are just that: attractive accessories designed to deflect attention from the central component of the bill — a broad-based amnesty.

Supporters of the bill have been saying and doing everything they can to convince the public that if America will just accept the “legalization” component of the bill, our government will finally be able enforce our laws — laws that are already in existence, I might add. This makes little sense.

First, we don’t need an amnesty to enforce our existing laws. Whether or not we reward millions of illegal aliens with legal status, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security will continue to have the legal tools they need to secure our borders and hold employers who hire illegal aliens accountable (something that the administration has grudgingly begun to do after much prodding from Congress and the American public).

Second, Congress has already demonstrated to the public how effective “comprehensive” immigration reform really is. In 1986 Congress provided blanket amnesty to some 3 million illegal aliens in return for promises of border security and employer enforcement, and America has seen the effects of that grand bargain: No enforcement and millions of additional illegal immigrants.

The public was fooled once, but much to the chagrin of President Bush and others, it appears that they are not going to be fooled again.

Consumer credit counselors often point out to their clients who are on the brink of bankruptcy that if it takes someone five to 10 years to get into a dire financial situation, one should expect that it will take five to 10 years to get out. Our current immigration mess is very similar, and one that will not be resolved with another promise of enforcement tomorrow for amnesty today.

Before we begin to discuss another 1986-style “Plan B,” we ought to take a crack at implementing “Plan A” — enforcing the laws we already have on the books; and contrary to what amnesty advocates would have you believe, that doesn’t mean mass roundups or deportations.

What it does mean is cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens. It means strictly enforcing existing federal laws and financial sanctions against local governments who create sanctuaries for illegal aliens. It means enforcing existing laws that are supposed to prevent states from providing taxpayer-funded benefits like subsidized college tuition to illegal aliens. By enforcing existing laws, we can eliminate the magnets that draw illegal aliens into the U.S. and keep them here. And as these magnets dry up over time, illegal aliens — unable to access the services and employment that brought them here — will simply go home. It is a strategy of attrition through enforcement.

Enforcing our existing laws isn’t a bold or revolutionary idea, but it won’t require a minute of debate in Congress to employ, and perhaps most importantly, it has never been tried.