National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


REAL ID A Real Distraction

February 10, 2005

Washington, D.C.Today, as expected, the House of Representatives passed legislation, H.R 418, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).  As amended, the bill will restrict asylum claims and the ability of immigrants to negotiate all immigration courts.  It gives unprecedented powers to the Secretary of Homeland Security when it comes to border fence construction, and constricts the rights of states to determine who can and cannot receive driver’s licenses that can be used for federal purposes.  The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based pro-immigrant advocacy organization.

We ought to thank Chairman Sensenbrenner for so brightly defining the difference between effective immigration enforcement and ineffective immigration enforcement.  His proposal falls squarely into the ineffective immigration enforcement camp and advances the fallacy that enforcement alone can lead to border security or immigration control. 

Those who feel this measure will enhance border security in a meaningful way are fooling themselves.  The desire for control over immigration is shared by all Americans, native-born and immigrant alike.  But the lopsided approach to securing the border and controlling immigration offered by this bill is fundamentally short-sighted.

If eventually signed into law, the bill will not make us safer and will not enhance immigration enforcement in any meaningful way.  Rather, it will make it harder for those fleeing religious and political persecution to access freedom; put more unlicensed and uninsured drivers on our roads; and make the government exempt from labor, environmental, contract, immigration, health, safety, and other laws when constructing border barriers.

Luckily, the chances that this flawed legislation will become law are slim.  The Senate would have to capitulate to Mr. Sensenbrenner’s approach to security, either through legislation or in a conference report on unrelated legislation, and that seems exceedingly unlikely.  While the House is famous for indulging Romper Room debates unfettered by reality, the Senate tends to deliberate policies on their merits in a Board Room environment.

Perhaps now that this vote is behind us, we can move on to consider actual border security measures that make our nation safer.  To do so, we have to address the fact that we have opportunity in this country, people seeking opportunity in other countries, and no viable legal mechanism for uniting the two with effective control and within realistic limits.

We cannot have meaningful border security without comprehensive reform of our immigration laws.  We should create legal avenues to match employers with employees and to unite families separated by borders.  The goal should be to create incentives to play by the rules, vet all those coming rather than just some, and create disincentives to coming illegally employing people under the table, and driving employment, immigration, and documentation into the black market.  Furthermore, our system must address those millions of people who are here, living, working, and raising their families amongst us who have no way of gaining legal status or fully participating in society.

Comprehensive immigration reform will replace the deadly, chaotic and illegal flow, with tightly regulated, safe, and orderly migration within realistic laws and limits.  It will provide incentives for those currently living underground to make themselves known and participate in America’s future above ground.  Then our border security and law enforcement assets can be employed to identify, keep out, or deport those who could actually do us harm.

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