Remember, we're still a nation of laws
Amnesty for illegal immigrants only results in more problems
By Elton Gallegly
Our nation's foundation is undermined if we fail to enforce our laws. Law gives liberty order. Without it, we have anarchy.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the intentional failure over the years to enforce our immigration laws. That failure has thrown into disarray our health care system, our economy, our higher-education system and our security.
Today we face an illegal-immigration problem of epic proportions. Some leaders - including those for whom I otherwise have great respect - wrongly believe that granting amnesty will solve the problem and end illegal immigration. But when you reward a behavior, human nature dictates the person will repeat it. And others, seeking the same reward, will imitate it.
Amnesty rewards illegal behavior. Our huge illegal-immigration problem is the result of years of granting amnesty, vowing to crack down on illegal immigration and then failing to do so, granting more amnesties, vowing to crack down again and turning our backs again. Now we're considering another amnesty, and another vow to crack down on illegal immigration.
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, was billed as a way to stop large-scale illegal immigration. By 1996, illegal immigration again was burgeoning out of control. In response, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
This was our get-tough answer. It included my legislation to screen for criminal aliens at local jails so the INS could put a hold on them prior to arraignment. It included get-tough provisions against employers who hired illegal immigrants. It also included what is known as the 3/10-year bar, which says that someone who has been here illegally for six to 12 months is banned from re-entering the U.S. for three years, and those illegally here longer are banned for 10.
My criminal-alien provision is not being enforced except in the most minimal of circumstances, even though 40 percent to 60 percent of those screened have been found to be here illegally. Employers knowingly hire illegal immigrants, aware that the chance of getting caught is slim to nil. The number of employers fined for hiring illegal workers plummeted from 1,063 in 1992 to 13 in 2002. And the 3/10-year bar has been undermined by an amnesty provision Congress has extended time and time again.
That provision, known by its section in the Immigration and Nationality Act, 245(i), was first enacted as a temporary provision in 1994. It allows some classes of illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents without leaving the country, provided they pay a higher application fee.
The amnesty provided under 245(i) was supposed to expire in 1997. It has been extended twice, however, and now any illegal immigrant who applied by April 30, 2001, is protected. Nearly 3 million illegal immigrants - who should have been deported and barred from entering the United States for three to 10 years - have taken advantage of the program and have been granted amnesty. In contrast, fewer than 12,000 illegal immigrants have been subjected to the bar.
Do such amnesties encourage more illegal immigration? Before the first deadline arrived, 266,000 illegal immigrants applied. Before the second deadline arrived, another 387,000 applied. Before the third deadline arrived, another 2.5 million applied.
To make matters worse, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service interpreted the law with the greatest level of leniency. For instance, in a January 2001 memo, the INS directed its staff to not reject any application "as long as they bear the required fee and the applicant's signature."
Backers of illegal activity are trying to make the program permanent. Other amnesty bills are floating around Congress. At the same time, employers continue to knowingly hire illegal immigrants, secure in the knowledge that laws forbidding it are not enforced. Emergency rooms shutter under the onslaught of illegal immigrants who can't pay for the health care provided to them, and our legal poor are left with nowhere to go. Our jails and prisons overflow with immigrants who've committed crimes - nearly 30 percent of inmates in federal prisons are illegal immigrants.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines "law" as "a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority." In other words, a law not enforced is not a law.
When we were a nation of legal immigrants, we were a nation of laws. The more we become a nation of illegal immigrants, the deeper we fall into anarchy.