The proponents of the Senate immigration amnesty bill are right about one thing: The recent Boston mayhem is largely irrelevant to immigration reform. It’s unrealistic to think that immigration officials should have divined the young Tsarnaev brothers’ future homicidal plans when the family’s asylum application was accepted in 2002 or even in 2007, when family members gained legal permanent-resident status. Perhaps the FBI’s interview with Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 for possible connections to Chechen terrorists should have stalled his younger brother Dzhokhar’s receipt of U.S. citizenship in 2012, but at least the Department of Homeland Security put Tamerlan’s own citizenship application on hold for further review, in light of the earlier FBI inquiry. If there was a government failure here, it would appear to have been the FBI’s, not the DHS’s, but more facts need to come out before reaching even that conclusion.
True, the asylum and refugee programs—a relatively small subset of legal immigration—suffer from fraud, but that fraud overwhelmingly consists of faking a basis for asylum, not covering up terrorist intentions. We can expect fraud to be an enormous problem in the proposed amnesty process, as it was in the 1986 amnesty, but it, too, will be largely concerned with manufacturing eligibility rather than with concealing terror plans. There is plenty to scrutinize in the Senate’s bill without alleging an exaggerated risk of terrorism, and it would be a mistake for skeptical senators to make national security a centerpiece of their inquiry. As horrific as every terror attack is, the incidence of domestic terrorism and the percentage of immigrants who commit it remain extremely low. The risks in the proposed amnesty law relate rather to America’s core immigration problem: the mass illegal entry of uneducated, unskilled aliens who pose no terror threat but who have a concrete effect on our educational and economic competitiveness.
Mickey Kaus has demolished the Senate bill’s central claim: that it makes border security a precondition for the granting of permanent-resident status. In fact, the enforcement goals consist of empty promises; nothing actually hangs on their achievement or requires that they ever be met. Immigrant advocate Frank Sharry candidly echoed Kaus’s analysis in the Wall Street Journal: “The triggers [for obtaining green cards] are based on developing plans and spending money, not on reaching that effectiveness, which is really quite clever.”
But the legislation’s most critical amnesty comes right away, before even the pretense of beefed-up security. Illegal aliens will get their illegal status removed six months after the bill is passed upon payment of $500. The formerly illegal aliens will be allowed to remain in the country legally, under so-called “probationary status,” for ten years (while those who wish to enter the country legally wait patiently in their home countries for permission to enter). This lawful presence is virtually everything that most would-be illegal aliens hope for, since few cross the border with any desire to become U.S. citizens. After the 1986 amnesty, the naturalization rate of newly legalized Hispanics remained depressed. Only after the passage of California’s Proposition 187, which barred illegal aliens from receiving government benefits, did Hispanic petitions for citizenship increase somewhat.
The idea that we will see any active immigration enforcement in the nation’s interior after passage of an amnesty defies reality. For nearly a decade, illegal-alien advocates have waged a relentless crusade to delegitimate immigration enforcement as inhumane; it is our laws, the argument goes, not an alien’s decision to break them, that are responsible for breaking up families. Border security is “harming and terrorizing our communities,” Maria Fernanda Cabello, a Houston-based field organizer for United We Dream, told the Los Angeles Times last week. “It’s time for citizenship for our families.”
The sponsors of the Senate bill should explain why the future of immigration enforcement is not foreshadowed in the successful attacks on the Secure Communities program. Secure Communities notifies Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials when an illegal-alien criminal is booked into a jail, in order to give ICE the opportunity to decide whether it wants to initiate deportation proceedings against the criminal. The program should be a no-brainer, and yet big-city police chiefs, like Los Angeles’s Charles Beck, and state governors, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have refused to cooperate with ICE on the ground that subjecting illegal-alien criminals to the fear of deportation for so-called “minor crimes” is unfair. (Of course, the very concept of “minor”—that is, trivial—crimes should be an oxymoron in the age of Broken Windows policing.) Is the Gang of Eight willing to demand that local law enforcement start cooperating with ICE as a precondition of amnesty?
The Eight should also explain why they would allow illegal aliens with criminal records to legalize. Not one amnesty proposal has ever required a clean criminal record to qualify. The current bill allows aliens with two misdemeanor convictions to legalize. Given the incessant pressures on district attorneys to accept a plea in exchange for downgrading the crime charged and to ignore most arrests entirely, it takes considerable effort to rack up two misdemeanor convictions—whether by dealing drugs, assaulting fellow gangbangers, stealing, or tagging. The bill’s authors apparently think that staying on the right side of the law is an insuperable burden and that having a criminal record is an ordinary part of being an American.
The political effects of the proposed amnesty won’t benefit the GOP, whatever the party’s hopes might be. Hispanics will not shift their vote to Republicans in the next presidential election unless Republicans promote the same big-government programs, such as Obamacare, that attract Hispanics to the Democratic Party in the first place. So Republican handwringing over how to woo the Hispanic vote will begin all over again, and the next solution will be to convert probationers immediately to legal permanent-resident or citizenship status. Expect to hear the mantra: “Bring the probationers out from the shadows.”
Harvard economist George Borjas has recently estimated that low-skilled American workers already suffer wage losses of $402 billion a year because of immigrant labor, a sum that does not include the costs to taxpayers of welfare paid to low-skill immigrant workers and their children. Amnesty proponents should explain how providing legal status to millions of illegal aliens will affect the job prospects of the poorest Americans.
The coming amnesty’s insult to the rule of law and its magnet effect on future illegal immigration could perhaps have been justified had the proposed reform decisively converted the legal-immigration system from a family-based to a skills-based one. Instead, the Senate bill makes only a minor change in that direction. Reconfiguring immigration priorities is crucial, because many children of unskilled immigrants are assimilating into the underclass. They are also placing enormous burdens on the nation’s schools. California governor Jerry Brown proposes to redirect state taxpayer dollars from middle-class schools to those with high proportions of “English learners,” because Hispanic students lag so far behind whites and Asians. Most of these “English learners” were born and raised in the U.S. but are characterized as non-native speakers because their academic language skills are so low. Nationally, only 18 percent of Hispanic eighth-graders read at or above proficiency levels, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Because of their low academic achievement (and their high rates of illegitimacy), second- and third-generation Hispanics rely on government welfare programs far more than native-born whites.
Stanley Kurtz has made the most subtle claim for why the Boston marathon bombings bear on immigration reform, arguing that they show the failure of what John Fonte calls patriotic assimilation. But terrorism remains a minute risk of that failure; the real consequence is to the unity of American culture, and the proposed amnesty bill will only erode it further.