The Obama Administration’s defense of “comprehensive immigration reform” (a.k.a amnesty) was presented by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano in an address at the Center for American Progress on November 13, 2009. The following analysis uses statements made by the Secretary to identify the Administration’s arguments and then discusses the logic or illogic of the statement.
Napolitano – “Everybody recognizes that our current system isn’t working and that our immigration laws need to change.”
Analysis – It is not so much that our immigration laws need to change as enforcement of our immigration laws needs to change. It doesn’t matter what laws are on the books if DHS will not enforce them. Napolitano’s statement implies that because foreigners continue to ignore our immigration laws they need to be changed. That sidesteps the real issue of how can foreigners and US employers be made to respect and comply with the law. The Administration’s view appears to be that employers who want cheap labor and foreign workers who want jobs should be accommodated rather than defending the best interests of the American people. Illegal immigration will continue until there is widespread awareness that it will not be tolerated and neither illegal aliens nor their employers will be able to continue to flout the law. Besides, the change in the law that the Administration advocates is an amnesty for the current millions of illegal aliens and an increased level of legal immigration – both of which are rejected by the majority of Americans.
Napolitano – “I’m referring to what I call the “three-legged stool” that includes a commitment to serious and effective enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here.”
Analysis – All should agree that there should be “serious and effective enforcement.” Clearly, if anyone who wanted to work in the United States were allowed to come legally, there would be less illegal immigration, but this would not be in the interests of U.S. workers and the general public. That is an issue that must be faced and cannot be glibly sidestepped. “Improved legal flows” means increased legal immigration. With more than a million immigrants receiving ‘green cards’ each year since 2000, current immigration is swamping the nation’s assimilation capacity and causing most of the rapid population increase that is jeopardizing the nation’s environmental future. “A firm but fair way to deal with those already here” is a code term for amnesty. It means allowing illegal aliens to stay permanently unless they have a criminal record. Requirements to pay some back taxes and to learn English are meaningless, because past practice demonstrates that these requirements will be forgotten or waived in the process of granting legal status.
So, of the three legs of the stool, only one leg – law enforcement – makes sense and has broad public support, and support for even that leg depends on what law is to be enforced and whether the enforcement is effective.
Napolitano – “Americans value our identity as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.”
Analysis – Respect for the law, and valuing our immigration history does not mean that the United States must accept the never-ending millions who say they would like to come here, nor does it mean that employers, who would like to be hire millions of cheap foreign workers, must be accommodated. Legal immigration has soared from about a quarter million persons per year in the late 1960s to more than one million a year since 2000. Our immigration history unfortunately includes periods of severe exploitation of foreign workers in sweatshops and in agriculture. Our laws that restrict legal immigration and outlaw illegal immigration are intended to prevent such abuse. Unfortunately, the lack of will by recent administrations to enforce those laws is reigniting the immigration abuses of the past.
Napolitano – “The security of the Southwest border has been transformed from where it was in 2007”
Analysis – Border fencing has made illegal entry more difficult, as has the increase in Border Patrol personnel and resources – including the currently abandoned National Guard presence. But, the US borders are far from secure. And, most of the enhanced border security measures Napolitano cited were begun during the second term of the Bush Administration, such as the increase in Border Patrol agents and the passage of the Secure Fence Act. The Obama Administration has refused to let the National Guard be redeployed to the border despite requests from border states. Napolitano cites progress in stopping the flow of cash, guns and drugs across the border, but this does not translate into stopping the illegal flow of people. Our continued inability to control our border would not be improved by amnesty, because that would only increase the temptation to enter illegally. The only real way to effectively fight the people smugglers is by diminishing their clientele by shutting down the U.S. job opportunities that attract illegal entrants.
Napolitano – “We have replaced old [interior enforcement] policies that merely looked tough with policies that are designed to actually be effective.”
Analysis – The opposite is the case. DHS under Napolitano has abandoned an enforcement effort that was resulting in prosecution of employers and removal of illegal workers and replaced it with a policy that is focused on employment document audits. That policy shift may inconvenience some employers and cause some illegal aliens to lose their jobs, but it leaves the illegal worker the opportunity to take another job that otherwise would be filled by an American worker. This new policy abandons any effective deterrence against hiring illegal workers through prosecution. Furthermore, DHS has cut back on one of the most promising interior enforcement operations. The 287(g) immigration enforcement program that assists local agencies in partnering with DHS has been restricted so that locally deputized police can no longer count on DHS to back them up when they apprehend illegal aliens.
Napolitano – “New biometric technology allows us to take the fingerprints of people coming into the United States and compare their prints against databases we couldn’t access before.”
Analysis – Napolitano would have the public believe that the nation now is safer because DHS is collecting the fingerprints of foreign travelers. But, that does nothing to solve the problem of our vulnerability to foreigners staying illegally and taking American jobs. Arriving illegal entrants get fingerprinted only if they are apprehended by the Border Patrol. Furthermore, it is dissimulation to claim that the fingerprinting of arriving foreign travelers will be an effective deterrent to illegal residence and working in the U.S. as long as there continues to be no record of the departure of foreigners that can be matched with entry data to identify foreigners staying illegally.
Napolitano – “DHS needs immigration reform.”
Analysis – Napolitano states she wants tougher enforcement laws against smugglers and fines against employers of illegal workers. Congress could pass those changes in a heartbeat if it were not for the fact that the Administration is holding those reforms hostage to their efforts to leverage adoption of an amnesty for illegal aliens.
Napolitano – “We will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows.”
Analysis – Effective immigration law enforcement and national security clearly require reducing the illegal alien population. But, rather than an amnesty that rewards illegal immigration – as was done in 1986 – true reform requires that the illegal alien population be reduced through enforcement. Effective denial of the jobs aliens come to take illegally is necessary to encourage them to return to their homeland.
Napolitano – “We have to make sure the immigration system works to support American families, businesses and workers.”
Analysis – By “support American families,” Napolitano appears either to be thinking that anyone living in the United States, without regard to their legal status, is an American family or is using that phrase to describe illegal alien families that contain a U.S. citizen. The children born here to illegal aliens – anchor babies – are U.S. citizens and cannot be deported even though they usually will also have the nationality of their parents, i.e., dual nationals, and that creates an emotional context in fighting deportation. But, Napolitano’s statement ignores the fact that U.S. policy assists families to stay together by accommodating deported aliens in taking their dependent U.S. children with them. Secretary Napolitano’s reference to supporting American businesses, boils down to allowing employers of illegal aliens, who have benefited from their willingness to work for lower wages than American workers, to be able to continue to have those services available by making the workers legal through an amnesty. The alternative, of course, is to deny the employers the continued access to the foreign workers so that they will hire unemployed Americans. By support for American workers, Napolitano appears to be thinking of illegal workers, because they are the only ones who would benefit by amnesty. Amnesty would permanently undermine wages and working conditions as well as undercut job opportunities for unemployed American workers, and it would perpetuate future illegal immigration.
Napolitano – “[Amnesty for illegal aliens] will strengthen our economy as these immigrants become full-paying taxpayers.”
Analysis – Aside from the recognition that most illegal workers and their employers cheat by ignoring the tax laws, this statement is wrong. While more taxes might be collected from workers if they were using valid Social Security numbers, the alien workers would also gain a greater opportunity to apply for credits and refunds, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and child credits for poor workers with families. That would mean a drain on tax revenue rather than an increase. Furthermore, the greatest possible economic gain would result from putting unemployed Americans to work so that welfare and unemployment payments would decrease. In addition, illegal alien reduction through enforcement would reduce the flow of foreign remittances being sent out of the country. Those billions of dollars sent abroad cost the United States not only in the balance of payments debt, but also as a result of the impact on the U.S. economy from lost sales, production and jobs.
Napolitano – “Executives in Silicon Valley…want to increase their workforce and help get the economy moving again, but some of the major barriers they have to growing their companies are visa laws that make it difficult for high-skilled foreigners to stay here to work.”
Analysis – High-tech employers continue to hire foreign workers while similarly qualified American workers are laid off.1 There is no requirement that American workers be given preference before a company hires foreign high tech workers. More than 20,000 U.S. high-tech jobs were lost in July 2009.2 Foreign workers are not smarter or better educated than U.S. workers, but they are more easily exploitable and accept lower wages. If high-tech employers really prized their foreign workers, they would sponsor more of them for immigrant visas at the end of the 6-year nonimmigrant visas. Instead they find it easier to replace those foreign employees – like they do American employees – with a new crop of younger foreign workers. It should come as no surprise that U.S. high-tech employers would like to expand the practice that already allows for more than 100,000 jobs a year to go to foreign professional workers through H-1B visas, intra-company transfer visas and NAFTA visas.
Napolitano – “We need to revise our current provisions for legal migration to help assure a legal workforce in cases where businesses can’t find Americans to fill their jobs.”
Analysis – This statement ignores the fact that businesses should never be allowed to discriminate against American workers by hiring foreign workers at lower wages. Our law already provides visa programs that allow U.S. businesses to hire guest workers until market forces can supply American workers. Unfortunately, however, agricultural and other employers have been allowed to become addicted to exploiting illegal alien workers, leading to depressed wages that now discourage American workers from taking these jobs. This merely perpetuates the employers’ claim that Americans do not want the jobs and needs to be reversed. This practice of exploitation may be seen in the fact that most seasonal crop employers choose to hire illegal workers rather than use the legal guestworker program that has higher costs resulting from the protections for both the American and foreign workers.
Napolitano – “No one should have to wait in a line for years in order to reunite with a spouse or a young child.”
Analysis – Immigrant visas allow a spouse and minor children to accompany the principal visa recipient with no wait. The new foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen similarly is not delayed by any numerical limits, and that applies to the minor children of that spouse if there are any at the time of the marriage. So, what is Secretary Napolitano talking about? She likely is referring to the immigrant from a country that already has a very large immigration flow and has run into per country limits – like India or China – who decides to return to the home country to find a spouse. In that narrow circumstance, spouses of immigrants may face a long wait for a visa. The alternative to the wait is for the immigrant to become a U.S. citizen before deciding to seek a foreign spouse.
Napolitano – “We must modernize our laws for the 21st century.”
Analysis – What Secretary Napolitano describes as ‘modernization’ is really a pretext for adopting a new amnesty for illegal aliens. If DHS vigorously enforced the law, our current system would work infinitely better. Rather than adopt an amnesty to permanently accommodate millions of immigration lawbreakers, the country needs to restore a moderate level of immigration – far fewer than the more than one million legal immigrants arriving each year added to the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, further added to by the more than 100,000 new guestworkers arriving each year. America in the 21st century has different needs than America in the 20th or 19th century. The country no longer depends on large numbers of manual laborers for our industrial production. Our country is now densely populated in our major cities that merge into one another. It makes no sense to expand immigration by legal or illegal means. U.S. law should recognize our current demographic limits and revert to a moderate level of legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the form of modernization that Ms. Napolitano supports.
1. “H-1B visa use by U.S. firms holds steady in ’09,” Computer World, December 14, 2009, (website consulted December18, 2009). “U.S. firms, despite cutbacks in their own staffs and an overall decline in IT employment, continued to hire people using H-1B visas. That list includes Microsoft, Intel and IBM’s India operation.”
2. “November Tech Job Cuts Take Dip, But Trend Is Still Up,” BNET website consulted December 18, 2009.