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Immigration bill won't work

Politico | June 26, 2007

Roger Simon

The immigration bill currently before Congress makes a promise to the American people: In return for legalizing the 12 million illegal immigrants already here, Congress will end or at least seriously curtail future illegal immigration into this country.

But that is a promise Congress cannot keep.

The immigration bill is formally called the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. And while it may be reform and it could mean economic opportunity, it will not secure our borders.

It will not even come close.

There are many aspects of the bill that are controversial, such as a guest worker provision, but today I am going to talk only about reducing illegal immigration into this country, what can work and what can't.

The current system can't. Nor can the higher fences or more border guards of the immigration bill.

Those measures are not worthless, but they cannot solve the problem. Seriously choking off the flow of illegal immigration cannot come at the border; it must come at the work site.

Here are some reasons why:

Half the illegal immigrants in this country came here legally. They came on student visas or work visas or from Japan or one of a majority of European countries, places from which we do not require a visa. The people came here for a set period of time and didn't go back.

So, obviously, if you didn't sneak through a fence to come here, building a better fence won't keep you out.

How about those people who did sneak over the border? Bigger, better fences and similar measures have their limitations.

For every 50-foot fence, there is a 51-foot ladder.

Don't imagine that illegal immigrants wake up one morning in Mexico, hitchhike to the border and crawl through a hole in a fence on their own.

Smuggling illegal immigrants over the border (and it is not just from Mexico but also from countries like China) is a huge, sophisticated, well-funded criminal enterprise. The smugglers get paid high fees to provide routes of entry and counterfeit documents so those smuggled can find jobs in the United States.

"It is a business to bring people here, and what makes that business work is that there are jobs at the end of the pipeline," says Bruce Morrison, an expert on immigration. "As you make it harder to get here, the price goes up. That's all. It's like illegal drugs. Have we cut off the drug supply?"

If you want some evidence of the limits of increased border security, examine what happened under the Clinton administration.

In his second term, Bill Clinton got serious about illegal immigration. He built fences, he beefed up the Border Patrol, he instituted a border security program called Operation Hold the Line that featured very aggressive enforcement, and he spent more money than any previous administration on the problem.

And illegal immigration increased.

Why? The Clinton administration was also a time of a booming U.S. economy. There were jobs that needed filling, and illegal immigrants knew they could get those jobs. Border fencing, more guards and all the rest proved largely ineffective.

As I said, those measures are not worthless, but they will not solve the problem in any substantial way.

What will?

"There has to be the expectation if you are outside the United States that if you come here illegally, it will be highly unlikely that you will get a job," Morrison says. "That is the deterrence strategy. People won't come here illegally, because there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

OK, fine. Make it very difficult to get a job. But isn't that what the current bill before Congress promises?

Yes. But it is a promise that cannot be kept.

Morrison, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut, was chair of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, a member of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and House author of the Immigration Act of 1990. He is now an immigration attorney and lobbies on a wide variety of immigration issues.

And he says the current legislation is fatally flawed.

"Getting the (work-site enforcement) system to work right is a necessary precondition to all the other benefits of this legislation," Morrison says. "Perfection is not achievable, but we can do much better than what is in this legislation."

This Sunday on a talk show, I made some comments about the need for real work-site enforcement to make immigration work.

On Monday, I got an e-mail from an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the chief sponsors of the immigration bill, that said: "Not sure where you got your facts that the immigration bill doesn't have a lot on work-site enforcement, it certainly does, including a sweeping new employee verification system."

Sweeping? New? Maybe. But it is also nonexistent. It can never be created in time to meet the provisions of the law, and it will have glaring holes when and if it ever does exist.

The bill requires that within 18 months of enactment all newly hired employees must be checked by something called the Electronic Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), and within three years every employer in the United States must check every employee in the United States using it.

But there are 150 million people in the U.S. workforce and some 60 million people who change jobs every year.

And this system -- which does not currently exist and has to be up and running in 18 months and completed in three years -- is going to make sure everyone in the workforce is here legally? Not a chance.

Morrison helped create something called the Basic Pilot, a small program that, as its name implies, is supposed to pave the way to a full-scale, operational program. It currently covers about 16,000 employers in the United States and is run by the Department of Homeland Security, which will also run the system proposed in the bill before Congress.

The Basic Pilot uses a variety of means to check identities, such as checking passports, Social Security numbers, etc. It is the program on which the EEVS system will be based.

And it doesn't work. Not well, anyway. One firm, which vetted all its employees through the Basic Pilot, was recently raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which carted off 1,300 employees who were illegal aliens.

How could people be approved for jobs by the government and still be here illegally?

"Identity theft," Morrison said. "The best way to beat the system is to steal the identity of a U.S. citizen. If you have a counterfeit driver's license and a counterfeit Social Security number, it will clear in the database."

It is that simple. Remember how I said that illegal immigration is actually a sophisticated criminal enterprise? That criminal enterprise has moved into identity theft in a big way.

I know what you are saying: How about those foolproof, biometric, unforgeable, uncounterfeitable identity cards with fingerprints and retinal scans and voice prints that we keep hearing about? Why can't the government use them?

A few reasons: They don't exist, and even if they did, they would not solve the problem without one major and very controversial step: To find out who is here illegally, we must register the identities of everyone who is here legally and put that in a giant national database. And I am talking about fingerprinting, voice printing or doing a retinal scan of every man, woman and child in America.

Sound like something you want to do?

Let's say we really had those biometric identity cards that backers of the immigration bill keep talking about. And let's say they had your thumbprint on them. Wouldn't that solve everything?

No. A card without a database is worthless, because if all you can check is the card against the person, then a forged card works. (It is just like getting into a bar with a phony ID if you are under the drinking age.)

Only if you have a database with the real person's thumbprint in it can an employer be alerted to a forgery. But that requires everybody being in the data pool.

To find out who is illegal, you have to know who is legal. Otherwise the illegals will just steal the identities of the legals.

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