Nearly all of us agree it's time for Washington to fix the country's immigration crisis and put an end to illegal immigration once and for all. The President and the newly coined 'gang of eight,' a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators propose a pathway to citizenship as their solution to halting the nation's ever expanding immigration woes. But with 7.9 percent unemployment and nearly 23 million Americans either out of work or underemployed, now is no time for adding even more workers an already beleaguered legal workforce.
As a former Department of Justice Attorney who handled civil immigration cases dealing with the deportation of illegal aliens around the country, I believe the real issue mostly ignored by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers is the impact that legalizing foreign workers will have on the employment prospects of millions of Americans. According to research by the Center for Immigration Studies, of the estimated 11 to 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S., seven to eight million are thought to be holding a job. Rather than advocate for immigration policies that encourage aliens to leave the country and return to their nations of origin, President Obama and the bi-partisan gang of eight are pushing for policies that would provide immediate green cards and legal status to millions more immigrant workers.
Proponents of amnesty plans like this one often claim that foreigner workers only take jobs Americans won't do. But with millions of Americans, including legal immigrants out of work, it is imperative that we enact policies that force employers to hire legal workers, rather than flooding labor markets with foreign workers often forced to work in poorer working conditions for reduced wages.
In his recent push for a comprehensive plan, the President has repeatedly said that any immigration overhaul must include a pathway to citizenship. The plan he proposes, however, requires nothing by the way of border security to make sure illegal flows are stopped before distributing green cards to new foreign workers, thereby massively expanding the number of legal workers and creating even more ways for foreign laborer to gain entry to U.S. labor markets.
History shows us that amnesty proposals enacted to end illegal immigration just don't work. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan oversaw the last major federal amnesty effort in an attempt to curb illegal immigration. Unfortunately, his amnesty program failed to solve the problem and due to family reunification laws, the 2.7 million people whom Reagan amnestied were able to immediately sponsor huge numbers of relatives, some bringing in 80 or 90 persons. Plus, because the enforcement aspects of the law were never put into practice, the 1986 amnesty left the gate wide open to further numbers of illegal immigrants. Swelling the population of illegal aliens in the U.S. from 4 million in 1986 to upwards of 12 million today. Today's legalization proposals raise a strong possibility of history repeating itself.
In the end, many studies have determined that enactment of an amnesty could double legal immigration visas to the U.S., which would be harmful to American workers. Expanding legal immigration by providing another amnesty is not the only way to "reform" our immigration system. What we need is the enactment of a mandatory E-verify program to ensure that workers hired by employers are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Anything short of that is not good policy, it's just politics as usual.
Durant is Executive Director of Progressives for Immigration Reform, a non-profit organization seeking to educate the public on the unintended consequences of mass migration through research, advocacy and engagement.