Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Fixing Our Broken Borders

Out Of Control
According to the United States Department of Justice, there were a total of 7.0 million persons residing illegally in the United States as of January 2000. The January 2003 Executive Summary of a study by the Immigration and Naturalization Service shows that as of 2000, 69% of all persons residing illegally in the United States are from Mexico. Further, the following countries are identified as having 100,000 or more of their nationals living illegally within the United States.

  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Columbia
  • Honduras
  • China
  • Ecuador

This data was extrapolated from the 2000 census, as well as studies by the I.N.S. The same studies go on to say that at least 350,000 persons illegally enter the country every year for the purpose of taking up residence here. If we accept the government's (probably conservative) figure, it can be assumed that as of January 2005, there will be over 8.0 million persons residing illegally within the borders of the United States.

The popular media is reporting that there has been an upsurge in illegal entries by persons responding to rumors of a new amnesty program for illegal residents.

Even though an argument can be made that illegal immigration offers some positive benefit to the economy, it has been well documented that (mostly uninsured) illegal immigrants contribute to much greater education and health care costs. These expenditures have especially hit California and the other border states particularly hard.

Clearly, there is an emergency situation that needs to be addressed. Not only do we need to be worried about the ramifications of greatly increased economically-driven illegal immigration, but in this post 9-11 world, there is a genuine danger that the next terrorist attack may begin with an infiltration of our vulnerable (especially southern) borders. Interestingly, as reported by Diggers Realm, just such an attempt to penetrate our southern border may have occurred last week.

The solution to the challenges posed by the large number of illegal immigrants living within our country begins with severely reducing the number of new arrivals. The ultimate aim should be to eliminate illegal entries altogether.

As the problem is complex, there is no effective single solution. An effective response would involve the use of multiple strategies. It could be thought of as a complementary, multi-level, "defense in depth."

Effective border control begins, logically enough, at the border itself. Basically, there are two alternatives for reducing the flow of illegal entries. The first is the construction of a comprehensive barrier, and the second is effective patrolling of the border.

In a perfect world, it would be possible to build a structure that would effectively deter illegal entry attempts. Sadly, it is probable that no effective structure will be erected (a "fence") on the entire border. As proven by the Israelis, the construction of such a secure and well-policed fence is possible, but highly unlikely (in this country) due to a wish to avoid the negative world-wide publicity and political costs here at home that the construction of an effective barrier would incur.

If the federal government doesn't have the political will to build an effective barrier, then the only other viable alternative for defending the border is the effective patrolling of it. As reported by The Washington Post, and The Washington Times, the Intelligence Reform Bill directs that the Border Patrol hire an additional 2000 officers per year for the next five years. Even though this could be considered a step forward, it will do little to stem the overwhelming flow of persons that continue to illicitly cross the southern frontier.

An obvious part of the solution would be to enlist the assistance of both active-duty and reserve components of our military to help secure the border. Critics of using our military are always quick to cite the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that forbids the use of our (federal) military for enforcement of civil law except in times of insurrection or invasion by a foreign power.

However, similar to any other Federal Statute, the Posse Comitatus Act can be amended, or even repealed, by following the standard law-making process. All that is needed is for the Congress and Administration to have the will to do so. As for the Act itself, its history is shameful in that it was used by certain post-Civil War state governments for the purpose of disenfranchising African-American voters. Clearly, this law needs to be changed in some fashion.

Under current law, the National Guard can be (and has, to a limited extent) used along the border. This is due to the fact that National Guard troops are under state, not federal, command. Even though its use is authorized, the Guard has seen little actual service protecting our border.

Even if there were to be a substantial increase of law-enforcement assets on the frontier, effective control cannot be established until policy-makers order a reversal of what Michelle Malkin has termed (in both her blog and column) a policy of "Catch and Release" of illegal immigrants by the Border Patrol. In other words, when people are detained for attempted illegal entry, they are at once returned to their country of origin where they are free to immediately try again.

What is needed is the swift administration of a consequence for those that are caught attempting to enter the country illegally. A jail term of no less than 90 days for the first offense, and penalties that increase by six months for each subsequent offense, would have an obvious deterrent effect.

A crucial aspect of gaining control of our borders would be to eliminate the incentives that individuals currently have to enter this country illegally. What nearly all illegal immigrants seek when they come to this country is a job. It goes without saying that if the supply of jobs for illegals can be reduced or eliminated, it only follows that the supply of labor needed to fill those jobs would likewise be substantially reduced or eliminated. The key is to discourage employers from offering jobs to illegal immigrants.

There is a federal law on the books, but it is very poorly enforced, with very few cases being prosecuted since its passage several years ago.

A tougher, better written law needs to be passed, in order to hold employers accountable for the hiring illegal workers, with a requirement that employers verify the authenticity of identification documents and social security numbers, neither or which is required under current federal statutes. The sanctions need to be substantial, and rigorously enforced.

When the Intelligence Reform Bill was passed, only a few provisions dealt with the securing of the border. It was promised that the incoming Congress would quickly deal with immigration-related issues when they return from their December recess. Among those that are likely to be brought to the fore is the debate about driver's licenses for illegal aliens.

Because the driver's license is a defacto identification card in this country, it has been pointed out that there were 63 legally obtained valid drivers licenses held by terrorists of September 11th. These were issued from a variety of states. It cannot be denied that the possession of these licenses greatly facilitated the terrorists in the execution of their horrible acts.

The support among the public for barring illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses is overwhelming. If the Congress and Administration do not have the fortitude to enact even this modest reform of a glaring loophole in our national security, then it is highly debatable that anything effective will be done in the upcoming year.

As Tony Iovino at A Red Mind In A Blue State demonstrates so well, there can be little doubt that legal immigration has made, and will continue to make, many positive contributions to the American landscape. We have a long tradition of welcoming those that desire to come to this country in order to work hard while in pursuit of their dreams. Those that do choose to come to our country need to do so by complying with our laws. Obviously, something needs to be done to address the problems posed by unchecked illegal immigration. The process begins by restoring control of our own borders.

Update:(12/20) Michelle Malkin takes a look at some statements concerning illegal immigration by the Bush Administration.

Update:(12/28) The Census Bureau projects that a new immigrant enters the United States every 26 seconds.