National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


The Gap between Words and Actions When It Comes To Reforming Our Broken Immigration System

December 12, 2005

The Consensus View Among Our Nation's Leaders Is That For Immigration Reform To Work, It Has To Be Comprehensive. If So, Then Why Is The House Of Representatives Refusing To Consider A Comprehensive Bill?

Washington DC - This week, the House of Representatives plans to vote on a sweeping new package of enforcement-only immigration restrictions.  The American people have made it clear they want action on illegal immigration, and they expect their leaders to find a workable solution.  So, what is the nature of this week's House debate?

  • Will it be a comprehensive approach to a complex problem?  No.

  • Will it lead to a well-regulated immigration system with realistic limits and tight enforcement?  No.

  • Will it track the principles articulated by President Bush?  No.

  • Will it borrow the structure from any of the serious comprehensive bills introduced in the Senate?  No.

  • Will it find a way to deal effectively with the increasingly integrated labor market with Mexico and Central America?  No. 

  • Will it deal effectively with the 11 million immigrants living and working in the U.S. illegally?  No. 

  • Will it reduce family backlogs for those thwarted by a slow bureaucracy and limited slots?  No. 

  • Will it combine enhanced enforcement with enhanced legal channels so we as a nation will know who is here and who is entering?  No.

  • Will it combine America's traditions as nation of immigrants and as nation of laws?  No.

In recent years, the President and other leaders, from both parties, have spoken passionately about the need for comprehensive reforms that combine tough enforcement with smart immigration policies.  Unfortunately, House Republican leaders are pressing ahead with legislation that promises more of the same, tired, ineffective enforcement-only strategies of the past, only turbo-charged. 

Proposed in the name of control, the bill if implemented would result in more of the same.  It would force immigrants and immigration further into the clutches of a migration black market dominated by smugglers, fake document merchants, and unscrupulous employers.  

As a nation we have spent 20 years and billions of dollars on an enforcement-only approach to immigration control, and the results are in: the largest increase in illegal immigration in our nation's history and widespread public frustration with our leaders for failing to fix our broken system.  Isn't it time to get real and shift from repressing immigration ineffectively to regulating immigration intelligently?  When are our leaders going to lead?

Here is what our leaders have been saying recently:

President Bush: "As we improve and expand our efforts to secure our borders, we must also recognize that enforcement cannot work unless it's part of a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a temporary worker program." (Radio Address on Homeland Security, October 22, 2005)

Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff: "[F]or a Secure Border Initiative to be fully effective, Congress will need to change our immigration laws to address the simple laws of supply and demand that fuel most illegal migration and find mechanisms to bring legal workers into a regulated, legal Temporary Worker Program, while still preserving national security." (Remarks at a Houston forum on Homeland Security, November 2, 2005)

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman: "Just last week, there were news reports about jobs not being filled here in California.  If there are people willing to do jobs, and jobs that need to be done, we should be trying to bring those two together, not keep them apart." (Speech to the Republican Governor's Association, Carlsbad, CA, December 1, 2005)

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL): "We need to find the ability for people who want to come here and work and sustain their families to be able to have the opportunity to do that…[and while] we need to make sure illegals in the United States have some accountability, a lot of them have children that are U.S. citizens, and a lot of them don't have homes to go back to."  (BNA, July 29, 2005)

So, why is the House leadership, with the President's acquiescence, failing to promote some version of a more comprehensive approach to fixing our broken immigration system and opting for an enforcement-only package that most experts agree would make a bad situation worse if enacted? 

One answer is offered up by immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo's team: "According to what we've been hearing from the leadership, they're interested in red-meat votes," said Will Adams, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. "And if they're interested in red-meat votes, that's going to include a lot of provisions we'd want." ("Immigration Restrictions, Guest-Worker Issue Set Up Emotional Debate in House," CQ Today, December 9, 2005)

Oh.  We get it.  Perhaps that is why Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a sponsor of a strong comprehensive bill, commented after the House Judiciary Committee approved the Sensenbrenner bill, "I don't ordinarily say this, but thank God for the Senate." ("House Judiciary Committee passes border security bill," Orange County Register/Knight-Ridder, December 8, 2005)

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