ENFORCING OUR IMMIGRATION LAWS
October 7, 2005
In 1986, Congress passed a law that made it illegal to knowingly hire or employ an illegal alien - a seemingly logical solution to reduce the growing illegal population. If jobs were the incentive to come to America, it made sense to attack the root of the problem. Yet in 2003, seventeen years after the law was put on the books, 6.3 million illegal workers were employed in the U.S., with the number growing every day.
How could this be possible? The law wasn't repealed. How could such a common sense statute be rendered so completely ineffective? The answer lies in this statistic and many others like it: in 2003, only 445 undocumented workers were arrested at their job sites.
This number represents a failure in the enforcement of our immigration laws. Congress can pass tough laws every year, but if they are not enforced they remain useless. For many years now, weak enforcement and confusing provisions in immigration law have allowed illegal aliens to stay in the country without punishment. Deportation cases often last for years -- even decades in some instances. And only a small percentage of those who are issued final orders of removal are actually deported. This policy of turning a blind eye must end, but unfortunately things aren't changing.
Despite increasing numbers of illegal aliens pouring over our borders and a nearly quadrupled operating budget from 1993 to 2002, INS, now Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), still doesn't seem to be shifting its priority to the enforcement of our existing laws. A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office found that INS assigned 240 agents to workplace enforcement in 1999, but by 2003 the number of these agents had been decreased to just 90. With enforcement at this level, laws can neither deter employers from hiring illegal aliens nor discourage migrants from seeking jobs in America.
Recently, my conviction that enforcement is the key to solving this crisis was reinforced by an article I read in the publication National Journal. This article included an exchange between a legislator and a bureaucrat that is all too common. A Georgia state legislator asked, "Can we be sure if we turn illegals over to the feds, they will be shipped out of the country?" The ICE official simply replied, "No." This answer is not acceptable.
More resources must be devoted to enforcing the laws already on the books. A variety of good immigration reform proposals have been introduced in Congress, many of which I support, including two pieces of legislation I have introduced to eliminate the controversial visa lottery program and to create a workable, legal agricultural guest worker program. However, we must also be steadfast in enforcing the laws we already have.