A credibility problem, not a political one
Published 8:32 pm Tuesday, February 18, 2014
By Congressman J. Randy Forbes
The bill had just cleared the House and the Senate and was headed to the president for his signature. The text of the legislation was clear: The Attorney General shall adjust the status of an alien to that of an alien lawfully admitted for temporary residence.
It created a path to amnesty for illegal aliens. And it designated resources for border security, required employers to confirm their employees’ immigration status, and made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit those unauthorized to work.
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These words sound familiar — like they are from current proposals on immigration reform — but they are provisions from the Immigration Reform and Control Act enacted in 1986.
According to testimony before the House Budget Committee in 1987, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that 3.9 million individuals who could provide documented evidence that they had been living in the United States since Jan. 1, 1982, were eligible to apply for temporary legal status that could eventually lead to full citizenship.
Nearly 30 years ago, the government granted amnesty through the 1986 law and ultimately swept the issue of our broken immigration system under the rug. Today there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in our country.
It is my core belief that entry into this country is not a right, but a privilege. I have long opposed granting amnesty, and I continue to do so. Amnesty won’t fix what is broken.
The comprehensive overhaul of 1986 should be a warning. Creating a special pathway to citizenship that rewards those who have broken our immigration laws will, 30 years from now, put us right back where we are today.
So what are the lessons we’ve learned?
One thing we know is that we need to strengthen our borders without conditions. The cornerstone to any successful plan must first be the commitment to enforce our current immigration laws.
We also need to keep track of who is coming and going. According to the Government Accountability Office, the Homeland Security Department has lost track of one million people. While the Department knows these people arrived in the U.S., they cannot prove whether they left.
The 9/11 Commission called the creation of a visa exit system “an essential investment in our national security.” With roughly 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. having come in on legal visas and simply overstayed, it is not only critical that we address this issue; it’s just plain common sense.
We need to send violent illegal immigrants home. We need laws in place that say if you commit a violent crime and you are here illegally, you will face automatic deportation. During the past several years, I’ve worked to curb the threat of gang violence posed by those here illegally who are involved in such activity. I introduced legislation that gives the United States the power to deport an individual who is a member of a criminal gang.
We need a reliable employment verification system. An e-verify system would allow employers to verify work eligibility, effectively deterring individuals from coming to the United States illegally for jobs.
Unfortunately, even if these steps were taken today, they would be futile until we have an administration that can be trusted to enforce our laws. Our nation has long recognized the value and importance of adhering to the rules of our legal system. However, America’s immigration laws are only as good as our commitment to enforcing them.
Immigration is not a political problem, it is a credibility problem. If we repeat the mistakes of the past, history will surely repeat itself. We can and must do better.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.