President Obama criticized Arizona’s new immigration law, saying it was caused by inaction in Washington—specifically, the unwillingness of Congress to pass an amnesty law. He’s right about the geographic location of the problem, but not about how to start fixing it.
The chief culprit right now is the President himself, not Congress. While there are numerous changes to the law that should be made, the most urgent task before us is to enforce the laws already on the books.
The administration can do plenty without new laws.
Repair the Fence
Start with the fence. People sometimes exaggerate the importance of fencing, imagining you can set it and forget it. Actually, it requires constant maintenance and policing, but it does represent an important tool for the Border Patrol. Congress in 2006 required the construction of more than 700 miles of double fencing along the border with Mexico. The administration has said that construction is virtually complete—except that much of the new “fencing” actually consists of one layer of vehicle barriers, which can prevent a vanload of illegals from driving into the country but stop no one from hopping over them. Ending its opposition to real fencing would be the first priority.
Also at the border, the President could expand Operation Streamline, an initiative to prosecute every illegal alien caught along certain small sections of the border and lock them up for a few weeks or a month before returning them. The goal is to exact a penalty for border-jumping. Most people who are caught are now sent right back with little or nothing in the way of consequences.
Of course, border enforcement doesn’t end at the border. Making it hard for illegal aliens to find and keep jobs is at least as important, because without the magnet of jobs, illegal immigration becomes much less attractive. The President has all but ended raids at worksites, replacing them with audits of companies’ personnel records to look for illegal workers—who are fired, but not arrested. Audits are a great idea, but there need to be raids as well, if enforcement is to be taken seriously. And Obama doesn’t need permission from Congress to re-start them.
Check Social Security Numbers
Also in the area of employment, the Social Security Administration and the IRS currently know of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens who have used fake or stolen Social Security numbers to get jobs or file for tax refunds. But the agencies don’t tell anyone, supposedly because of their interpretation of privacy law. Here again, the President could act without action by Congress and instruct his agencies to inform employers when they submit a fake or stolen number from a new employee and insist they take steps to clear up the situation, including ultimately firing. Also, in cases of identity theft, the President must require the agencies to inform all those claiming to have the number that it’s being used in multiple locations, so the real owner can take steps to stop it.
Use Local Police
In the area of policing, Congress created in 1996 something called the 287(g) program, which trains local police in the finer points of immigration law and effectively deputizes them as immigration agents. This allows local police to start the processing of immigration violators and enhances federal-state-local cooperation in immigration enforcement. This administration has tried to cut back this program and discourage new enrollments; the opposite is required and is within the administration’s existing authority.
What’s more, the administration can launch less-intensive, perhaps web-based, training in immigration law for local police, so they’ll be able to tell the difference between a green card and an employment authorization document, among other things, hugely improving their ability to spot immigration lawbreakers and not hassle legal immigrants or visitors.
And border enforcement isn’t even all on our own territory. About one-third of illegal aliens came in legally, with visas, but never left. In 1996, Congress mandated the development of a check-in/check-out system at the border, so we’d know which visa-holders left and which had overstayed. Nearly 15 years later, this still hasn’t been completed, and it’s not clear anyone in the administration even wants to do this. Again, this is in Obama’s power to change on his own, with no new laws.
And a further step back takes us to the visa offices themselves in our consulates overseas.
Although the law specifically says all visa applicants are to be assumed to be potential illegal aliens until they prove otherwise to the satisfaction of our State Department employees, the reality is very different. Too many refusals can potentially jeopardize a young Foreign Service officer’s career, while freely granting visa applications to people likely to end up as illegal aliens causes little disquiet from superiors. This, again, is matter of misguided management not inadequate laws.
Our immigration policy is indeed broken, something everyone seems to agree on. But rather than Congress’s passing “comprehensive immigration reform,” we need the President to undertake some “comprehensive enforcement reform.” And he doesn’t need anyone’s permission to do that.