Real Immigration Reform

Until late last week, the Senate immigration reform bill’s future was in doubt. Many Republicans wanted to support the bill, but couldn’t because of nonexistent border security enforcement triggers. They were desperate for an amendment that would, at the very least, create the illusion of seriousness regarding border security. After submissions by Senators Cruz, Grassley, Paul, and Cornyn all failed, the possibility of the Gang of Eight failing to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to proceed seemed high.

On Friday, however, a deal was announced on the so-called “border surge” amendment negotiated by two Republican senators — Tennessee’s Bob Corker and North Dakota’s John Hoeven. The amendment would double the size of the border patrol, require 700 miles of border fencing, and require a detailed comprehensive south border security plan including high-tech protections. Opponents of the amendment point out that it does nothing to fix what Rand Paul called the “fatal flaw” of the Gang of Eight’s bill. Senator Paul wrote that he wouldn’t support a bill that had no “verifiable border security.” The Corker-Hoeven amendment, like the bill it amends, is just calling for a more detailed plan, not an enforcement trigger for legalization of illegals.

For all the attention the Senate bill has gotten, it has no chance at becoming law as written. When asked by radio talk show host Mark Levin if he would support the bill, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan said, “It’s not coming over, we’re not going to bring up the Senate bill.”

To fix the problems in the Senate’s bill, Ryan’s plan will have specific objective metrics that will be measured by the GAO (General Accountability Office) and border officials from border states, and will need to be satisfied before illegals can begin the process of obtaining a green card, and ultimately citizenship. These include having an E-Verify system up and running, specific numbers of border patrol agents that need to be hired, operational drones, and a fence that needs to be built. According to Ryan, if the border triggers aren’t met within three years, and the E-Verify system within five, the probationary legal status will be revoked.

That’s not to say there are no problems with Ryan’s plan as well. The “crippling flaw” of Ryan’s plan is that it assumes that the government will be able to deport the people who aren’t eligible for what he calls “earned citizenship.” These people, whether criminals or people who are unable to be self-sufficient, will most probably not voluntarily sign up for a program that will allow them to be tracked for eventual deportation. And even if they were to sign up, the actual deportation of these immigrants doesn’t seem to be written into the bill as a trigger. Considering the track record the federal government has in this area, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they can do this effectively.

So why then aggressively push a bill that isn’t perfect? In his interview with Levin, Ryan pointed out three major upgrades his plan would have over the current system. These are improvements in the immigration system above the security upgrades his plan would produce. Currently, employers need to fill out an I-9 form to confirm that they verified the employee’s eligibility to work; i.e., that the worker is here legally. There is no requirement, however, that the identification presented be authenticated by the employer. Ryan’s plan would fix that by requiring an E-Verify system which would be able to authenticate the legal status of every worker seeking employment. Ryan would also affirmatively deny government benefits to anyone on probationary status and within the first five years of a green card. This removes the incentive that currently is in place for people to immigrate solely to collect welfare and food stamps. The third big upgrade is the creation and expansion of a guest worker program in areas of employment where there is a labor shortage in this country. That would take away the ability of the “criminal immigrants” who are here to engage in illegal activities, to blend in with the “economic immigrants,” who are only here to create a better life for themselves and their families.

With these major improvements to the current system, passage of the bill fits in nicely with Ryan’s approach to legislating. When faced with criticism for his “yes” vote on the fiscal cliff deal early this year, Ryan said: “Will the American people be better off if this law passes relative to the alternative? In the final analysis, the answer is undoubtedly yes. I came to Congress to make tough decisions — not to run away from them.” This bill would have the same answer.

Conservatives need to realize that part of the reason the border hasn’t been secured, and advances haven’t been made to the immigration system is their insistence that nothing happen unless it is perfect. But insisting that legislation is perfect is, in reality, making perfect the enemy of the good. The more perfection is insisted on, the less chance anything has a chance of happening. Only by accepting that they won’t get everything can they achieve real, effective immigration reform.