National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


House takes up Enforcement-Only Bill while Senate Prepares to take up Enforcement-Plus Reform

November 16, 2005

Washington DCThis week begins what could be an intense season of legislative focus on the important issue of immigration reform and border security.  Three committees in the House will address immigration and border security this week; among them a mark-up on Wednesday morning of border security legislation introduced Monday in the newly formed Homeland Security Committee.  Also on Wednesday morning, the House Education and Workforce Committee holds a hearing on the impact of immigration policy on the American economy.  Finally, on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration continues its series of hearings on illegal immigration.  Meanwhile, the debate scheduled for early next year in the Senate is beginning to take shape with the drafting of a “Chairman’s Mark” from the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter (R-PA) (disclosed in Saturday’s New York Times).  The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington on these developments.

There will be a flurry of activity on Capital Hill related to immigration reform in the coming weeks in the House of Representatives.  The House Leadership seems desperate to pass some sort of border security measure as an early Christmas present to the restive restrictionist minority within the Republican Party.  They seem unconcerned or unmoved by the fact that 20 years of similar unilateral measures have driven illegal immigration further underground, increased the dangers, costs, and deaths associated with cross-border smuggling, and coincided with the largest increase in illegal immigration in American history.

What the House package will turn out to include and how far members will overreach remains to be seen.  Many suspect that what starts today in the House Homeland Security Committee as a somewhat focused border security bill will become a vehicle for every bad idea ever dreamed up.    What is not in doubt is that the House approach to fixing our broken immigration system and gaining operational control of our borders will fix nothing and fail to gain operational control of our borders.

A round of enforcement-only grandstanding can at best have little real effect in reducing illegal immigration or tightening security, and at worst makes the current situation all the more dysfunctional.  Do we need to secure our borders? Of course.  Have border security build-ups and enforcement-only approaches helped secure our borders so far?  The opposite is true.  A tenfold increase in the Border Patrol’s budget over the last two decades has led to greater, deadlier, and more chaotic illegal immigration, not less.

In the House, they seem more interested in securing their reelection and political future than in securing our borders and our nation’s future.  Policy-wise it is more of the same.  Politically it promises to pay off about as well as Jerry Kilgore’s tough-sounding stance on immigration in his Virginia gubernatorial race. 

As advocates interested in fixing our broken immigration system and securing our borders, we are much more optimistic that workable policy solutions will emanate from the Senate early next year.  The draft package released by Chairman Specter falls short, but we anticipate this is just the opening gambit in the nuanced, intelligent debate to come.  The workable components of reform are already on the table.  Legislation to fix what ails us must address family immigration in a realistic way; must employ effective workplace and border enforcement strategies; must create the legal channels for workers to enter the country legally for jobs; must reduce the family reunification backlogs; and must create incentives for 11 million undocumented immigrants already here to come forward and register with the government that go beyond a simplistic and unworkable “report-to-deport” approach.

Such a comprehensive overhaul of our broken immigration system is the only way to deliver to the American people what they want, indeed, demand: greater border security, a controlled immigration system, and government vetting and knowledge of who is in our country and who is entering it.  A few weeks of House enforcement-only shenanigans might be interesting, but it won’t be significant.  It’s about politics, not policy.  The enforcement-plus reform debate – the serious one aimed at solving the problem – begins in the Senate early next year.


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