Just say no to amnesty redux

Posted: February 08, 2013

By Jan C. Ting

The so-called comprehensive immigration reform proposed by a group of senators and President Obama amounts to immediate amnesty for millions of immigration-law violators, and the lifting of limits on future immigration, with some window dressing designed to assuage skeptical voters.

We've seen this act before.

The 1986 amnesty promised to fix the immigration problem by granting amnesty to three million immigration-law violators, strengthening the border, and penalizing employers for hiring illegal immigrants. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

We know that merely strengthening the border and threatening employers who hire illegal immigrants are not sufficient to limit the numbers of foreigners seeking a better life in the United States. An amnesty simply attracts more illegal immigrants, now conservatively estimated at 11 million.

Illegal immigrants make a rational choice when they decide to violate our immigration laws. They weigh the costs, including the risks of getting caught, against the benefits of a better life. We attract more illegal immigrants by reducing the costs through discretionary enforcement and improving the benefits through amnesty.

The Pew Research Center estimates that the U.S. population will increase from 300 million to more than 400 million by 2050, mainly because of immigration, and that's if we do nothing. Another amnesty would accelerate that rapid population growth. Where will an additional 100 million people obtain schooling and health care and energy to heat their homes? Where will they drive and park their cars?

Both my parents were immigrants. I respect and admire immigrants, as we all should. But that's not the issue. The issue is: How many?

The United States is experiencing a protracted period of unemployment that is still hovering around 8 percent. Prolonged unemployment is a tragedy of broken lives, broken families, foreclosed homes, and life without health insurance. Legal immigrants, including those amnestied, will be able to compete with unemployed Americans for jobs.

If we're willing to accept unlimited immigration in order to keep wages low and corporate profits high, we should just say so and stop paying for all the immigration enforcement window dressing. But if we want to set and enforce a limit on immigration, we have to be willing to say no to would-be immigrants who look a lot like our own ancestors, not because there's anything wrong with them, but simply because admitting them would exceed our legal limit.

If those immigrants come anyway in violation of our immigration laws, we have to be willing to deport them, in order to raise the costs and decrease the benefits of illegal immigration, and to deter future immigration-law violators.

That's not an easy choice. But I think the American people want to enforce a numerical limit on immigration, even if it means turning away people who look like our ancestors. To do so, they will have to repeatedly contact their members of Congress to tell them to stop the amnesty.


Jan C. Ting is a professor of law at Temple University Beasley School of Law. E-mail him at janting@temple.edu.

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