Today, President Barack Obama gave a major speech on immigration reform at the American University in Washington, D.C. He emphasized that it was time for the United States to “squarely confront our challenges” when it comes to the country’s broken immigration system. Indeed, fixing the immigration problem is appropriate because the country is facing a serious illegal immigration problem — however, the answer of how to fix it is where President Obama deviates from common sense.
It is clear that at the heart of the Administration’s immigration reform agenda will be an amnesty for those illegal immigrants inside of the United States. However, the country did an amnesty in 1986 — and what it did was push the illegal immigration problem on to another generation. Now in 2010, the population has increased to 10 to 11 million. It’s clear that such a move only encourages more illegal immigration, and doesn’t get to the root of the illegal immigration problem. Yet, Obama not only used his speech to push for a mass amnesty; he also pushed for the Dream Act, which would grant an amnesty to individuals inside the United States who came here before the age of 16.
Any kind of amnesty — whether the Dream Act or a mass earned legalization — would have the same results of encouraging more people to come to the United States illegally.
President Obama’s focus on improving border security and enforcement as part of an amnesty package glosses over the fact that in 1986, aggressive enforcement was also linked to amnesty. However, politicians were too weak to enforce the law, and the problem got even worse. There is nothing to indicate that the results would be any different in 2010, as the Obama Administration has rolled back several effective enforcement efforts including random workplace enforcement raids.
The right answer is to secure the border while instituting a strong enforcement system that will discourage illegal immigration, while at the same time making legal avenues of immigration more efficient and better able to serve the needs of the economy. These steps, coupled with efforts to work with Mexico to reform its own economy and fight the drug cartels are good first steps for ensuring that the system works for all Americans.