The popular will regarding illegal immigration appears to have triumphed over elite sentiment—at least for now. The Senate is close to passing a House measure to build 700 miles of fence along the Mexican border, without demanding amnesty for illegal aliens or a guest-worker program as a quid pro quo. “Comprehensive” immigration reform (a.k.a. amnesty), the pet project of the Bush Administration and its conservative open-borders supporters, has for the moment foundered on political and social reality.

Anyone who still questions the wisdom of the enforcement-first strategy embraced by House Republicans (and a few staunch GOP senators such as Alabama’s Jeff Sessions) need only look at Madrid, where a conference on the European illegal immigration crisis has thrown the folly of amnesty into sharp relief. Spain is leading an appeal to other European Union members to beef up their support for a new EU border control agency. The agency, Frontex, tries to apprehend illegal immigrants as they sail from Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands. Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos argued on Friday that the African influx threatened Europe’s entire border, not just Spain’s.

But Spain’s appeal for aid has so far fallen on deaf ears. The reason: Spain is largely responsible for exacerbating the illegal immigration problem by having granted amnesty to its illegal aliens last year, according to leading EU representatives. Nicholas Sarkozy, France’s interior minister, says that Spain’s 2005 amnesty to 600,000 illegals lies behind the explosion of illegal migration this year. Officials have caught more than five times the number of Africans trying to reach the Spanish islands in the first 8 months of 2006—24,000—than they caught in all of 2005. France experienced an identical surge in would-be “refugees” after its own amnesty in 1997, says Sarkozy. Austria’s justice minister Karin Gastinger has charged that amnesties create a “pull factor [to] the people in Africa [and] give the wrong signal.” Even Senegal, the source of most immigrants to Spain, has criticized the Spanish amnesty for encouraging illegal immigration, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Needless to say, the European experience with amnesty repeats the U.S. one. Following the 1986 American amnesty, illegal Mexican immigration surged several fold. By now, we have enough shared experience with misguided immigration policy not to keep making the same mistake. France’s Sarkozy proposes a Europe-wide ban on mass amnesties. This is one French idea that the U.S. would be wise to embrace.


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