Paul Johnson: Congress abdicated responsibility on illegal immigration

The continuing national debate over illegal immigration has finally come to a head with President Trump and congressional Democrats coming to an impasse and a partial government shutdown as a result. This is mainly because for more than 30 years and through Democratic and Republican administrations, Congress has abdicated its responsibility.

In 1986, compromise immigration legislation was passed to give amnesty and a path to citizenship to people who were in the U.S. illegally. In exchange for the amnesty program, border security was supposed to be strengthened and employer sanctions tightened to prevent illegal immigrants from employment. The amnesty happened. Border security and enforcement did not. Republicans are understandably leery of more promises of border enforcement.

Under Democratic and Republican administrations, illegal immigration has been ignored or tacitly accepted. We now have another situation with several million people living in the U.S. illegally and more trying to come in every day. The number floated around in the news media is 11 million, but since, by definition they’re not accounted for, no one really knows how many.

We’re now in the middle of a government shutdown due to the determination of President Trump to finally address the issue with a “wall” and the determination of Democrats to prevent him from achieving one of his stated campaign goals.

Perhaps it would be useful to point out a few facts:

Every nation in the world has the right to control its borders and determine who may enter their country. It’s part of what makes a sovereign nation. It’s neither racist nor discriminatory to require entrants to identify themselves, give the reason for their visit and how long they will stay. This is how nations protect themselves and enforce their territorial sovereignty.

People who enter the U.S. illegally are flouting our laws. They are, in effect, saying: “Your laws don’t apply to me. I am above the law.” Entering illegally is a slap in the face to all those potential immigrants who are in line to enter the U.S. in a legal manner. The U.S. has always welcomed more immigrants and refugees than any other nation. According to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, in 2016 the U.S. admitted more than 1 million legal entrants.

Illegal immigration hurts U.S. citizens economically. A large pool of mostly uneducated, low skilled workers puts enormous downward pressure on wages. This mostly affects low income and minority workers who are just trying to survive. If the owner of a fast food restaurant has a long line of job applicants willing to work at minimum wage, he has no incentive to pay his workers a better wage that would help them improve their standard of living. This is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce favors higher levels of immigration and amnesty.

Major news outlets continually frame the ongoing debate as a debate about “immigration.” The debate is actually about “illegal immigration” and what to do about it. Donald Trump was the first presidential candidate to seriously talk about illegal immigration. He was elected, partly because voters wanted to see illegal immigration stopped. Most Trump supporters have no objection to legal immigration. But, they object strongly to those who cross our border and enter the country without permission.

The current impasse is over the president’s desire to build a physical barrier at our southern border to strengthen border enforcement. Democrats don’t want to build a wall which they say wouldn’t work. Well, walls do work, just ask Israel.

Perhaps the biggest harm of the current situation is to our constitutional form of government. Our immigration policy is being determined in a haphazard and irrational way at our country’s borders. This is destructive to our constitutional system and creates distrust and anger toward our government. Whatever immigration laws we have should be determined by a vote in Congress after mature and measured debate with input from all viewpoints followed by strong and consistent enforcement. This is what we have been lacking for more than 30 years.


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