Various new outlets are reporting increasing interest from leaders in the House of Representatives in advancing some form of amnesty, whether through some form of DREAM act or through a not-so-temporary worker program. Indeed Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the important House Judiciary Committee, has recently begun seeking “legal status for people who are already here,” aka amnesty.
Goodlatte and others claim that amnesty must be part of any immigration solution, but amnesty—in any form—is unfair, costly, and harmful to current and future enforcement and security efforts. It is unfair to Americans who are required to follow the law, as amnesty allows illegal immigrants to break the law and get away with it. It is also unfair to the millions of immigrants and workers who came here legally and the 4.3 million who are currently waiting in line.
Amnesty is also far too costly for U.S. taxpayers. Heritage research shows that mass amnesty such as the Senate’s bloated immigration bill could cost American taxpayers trillions. Given the mountains of debt and broken entitlement and welfare programs the U.S. is already struggling with, amnesty will only make a bad situation even worse.
Contrary to a common assertion that the “status quo is de facto amnesty,” amnesty is not occurring. Amnesty is a specific act of Congress conferring legal status on illegal immigrants and forgiving their immigration offenses, often with some conditions. What is currently happening is that the executive branch has unilaterally decided that it will not enforce wide sections of existing laws. More than any other President before him, President Obama has ensured that the enforcement of U.S. law has had essentially no effect on the vast majority of illegal immigrants.
Importantly, the solution to the President’s egregious lawlessness is not even more congressionally sponsored lawlessness in the form of amnesty. The U.S. tried this approach in 1986 and it failed. Amnesty encourages further illegal immigration by sending the message that the U.S. will eventually reward, not punish, illegal behavior by giving out some form of legal status again.
There should be no link between helpful policies, such as a temporary worker program, and harmful amnesties. By providing businesses with the temporary labor they need during certain busy seasons, temporary worker programs support the U.S. economy without allowing those workers to get sucked into the welfare trap. Temporary worker programs also reduce the incentive for illegal immigration, since there are clear and easy avenues for legal labor in the U.S.
Critically, however, temporary worker programs must be truly temporary and protect taxpayers. If they include legalization for current illegal immigrants then it is amnesty. And “a pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants is anything but temporary and will be costly over time to taxpayers. Similarly, the program must ensure that temporary workers are returned to their home countries once their visas are finished. Anything short of this will only continue to encourage more illegal immigration.
The U.S. can advance real reforms for immigration, but any “reform” that includes amnesty is destined to harm far more than it helps.