President Obama’s decision to grant work permits and Social Security accounts to millions of illegal aliens guts the central enforcement provision of the 1986 amnesty bill and simultaneously illustrates why he cannot be trusted to carry out comprehensive reform of our immigration laws.

It has been illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants since the 1986 comprehensive amnesty law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), went into effect. While many law-abiding employers have followed the law, some employers have ignored it and knowingly hired people in the country illegally, giving themselves an exploitable workforce that works for less and is okay with being paid under the table. When it comes to placing bids for jobs, the lawbreaking employer is often at an advantage since he can offer a lower bid than the employer who is hiring people legally and paying a decent wage and proper taxes.

And now Obama has rewarded these unscrupulous employers by giving work permits to their illegal laborers. It is a slap in the face to business owners who have played by the rules.


Without any sense of irony, Obama stated the following line early in his speech in which he announced his lawless amnesty: "Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less." If Obama truly cared about this, he'd be enforcing IRCA's employer sanctions and returning illegal immigrants home. He's doing the opposite.

The grant of work permits to illegal immigrants does not guarantee any raise in wages for those workers, most of whom are already receiving a legal wage. Instead, the granting of work authorization will make substandard wages permanent (or at least for as long as the program continues). Lawbreaking businesses now will not have to worry about being fined or having their laborers deported; they also don't have to raise wages in order to attract citizens and legal immigrants to the jobs.

Around 8 million illegal immigrants are currently working, which means there could be hundreds of thousands of employers who are breaking the law. The solution to lawbreaking is law enforcement and yet employer sanctions are minimal. If the executive branch had been enforcing workplace laws with any gusto over the past 28 years that IRCA has been on the books, we wouldn't have 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. That, in turn, would mean that the Obama administration wouldn't be able to use the large numbers as justification for amnesty (e.g., the "we can't deport everyone" and the "it's bad for national security" arguments). This is a perfect example of how the executive branch's failure/refusal to enforce laws leads to an excuse for making the nonenforcement permanent through an amnesty.

Undermining workplace enforcement has been a long-term goal of people working closely with Obama. Only four years after the comprehensive amnesty of 1986 was signed into law, former La Raza Vice President Cecilia Munoz — who currently works in the White House and advises Obama on immigration — authored a report for La Raza in which she called for an end to workplace enforcement, the main enforcement provision in the amnesty law. Obama has basically made La Raza's dreams come true while effectively turning IRCA into a one-sided legalization scheme. He has also undermined one of Congress's purposes in setting immigration limits, which is to prevent flooding the labor market with foreign labor that has the effect of driving down wages.

Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaJosh Shapiro officially launches Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro enters governor's race Barletta holds wide lead over GOP rivals in early poll of Pennsylvania governor race MORE (R-Pa.) recently asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about whether he believes adding millions of illegal immigrants to our legal workforce — as opposed to removing them from the country — will benefit unemployed Americans.

Barletta: How will adding at least 5 million new competitors to the workforce make it easier for the unemployed Americans to find a job?

Johnson: Congressman, the fact is, as I'm sure you know, is that we have lots of undocumented in this country working off the books. And if that's not apparent, then I suggest you spend some time in a restaurant here in the Washington, D.C. area and see it for yourself.

With a smug tone, Johnson basically admitted that he is aware of illegal hiring practices but he doesn't see it as a problem. Worse, he doesn't seem to understand (or care) that he is responsible for letting it continue. He also doesn't understand that doing his job (i.e., fining lawbreaking businesses and removing illegal aliens from the country) has a different impact than issuing work permits to the illegal laborers. Past legislators understood the difference and that’s why they put laws on the books, laws that Johnson is ignoring.

If President Obama and Secretary Johnson are willing to openly undermine current law and congressional intent, why wouldn't they do the same with a new comprehensive immigration law? Their actions clearly suggest they would enforce the provisions they like and ignore the parts they don’t like. The Obama administration simply hasn’t given Americans any reason to trust it with a new bill.

This type of lawlessness only encourages more lawlessness. Why shouldn't more people around the world attempt to enter the United States illegally? Why shouldn't employers hire them? At some point, executive branch policymaking undermines representative democracy and makes Americans wonder why they bother to petition their representatives on legislation or even cast a vote.

Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.