Immigration Reform Bill Already Tough Enough: Our View

The USA Today Editorial Board criticizes Senate Republicans for attempting to derail possible immigration reform by adding unrealistic measures to an already tough bill. The proposed immigration bill builds on current government border spending and decreased immigration and includes security measures like E-Verify and an entry-exit system. However, unreasonable requirements for these security systems and border apprehensions should not be allowed to prevent the possibility of passing any legislation at all.

By Editorial Board, USA Today, June 9, 2013

Unrealistic border demands try to kill ‘Gang of Eight’ proposal.

When attempts at immigration reform fail — as they so often have over the past two decades — the cause is always the same. People remember that the last major reform, in 1986, promised amnesty for undocumented workers in exchange for blocking new illegal immigration and delivered only the former.

So there’s reason to look warily at the latest plan, which the Senate will begin debating this week.

But taken to extremes, demands for tough enforcement can be used as a tool for killing reform entirely. And that, unfortunately, appears to be the tactic of choice for some Senate Republicans, who don’t want to lose Hispanic votes by opposing a bipartisan immigration bill but don’t particularly want it to pass either.

Their plan is to set impossible enforcement goals that would have to be met before any of today’s estimated 11 million undocumented workers could gain legal status.

One case in point is a proposed amendment to the compromise bill crafted by the so-called Gang of Eight senators. Written by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the amendment would turn the plan’s 10-year wait for green cards for undocumented workers into a never-ending one.

Among its unrealistic goals is the adoption of biometric entry-exit screening systems at all international airports and seaports. This is a worthy effort, one that both parties have been trying to reach since 9/11. But progress has been stymied by the complexity of the task. And, looking forward, it’s hard to see it being put in place any time soon.

The measure would also require that border agents be aware of 100% of all illegal border crossings and that they thwart at least 90%. These standards would be subject to interpretation by both the secretary of Homeland Security and the head of the Government Accountability Office (an investigative branch of Congress). This means that some future administration or Congress could throw a wrench into the plan.

The underlying bill is no slouch on enforcement. It would spend $5.5 billion over 10 years along the border. It would also set a goal of 90% apprehension in areas where most of the illegal crossings take place. After five years, if the goal had not been met, more money would be committed and border-state governors would be given a greater say.

The firm belief is that the goals will be met. The government is already spending $18 billion on immigration enforcement each year — more than on all other law enforcement activities combined. Illegal crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border has slowed to a trickle, and by some accounts it has even reversed as job opportunities south of the border have grown.

There is still much that needs to be done. The E-Verify system for checking applicants’ status at the workplace needs to be fully deployed. And some form of entry-exit system needs to be phased in. But none of these things should be used as an excuse for ignoring other issues, including the need to bring some 11 million people into the mainstream.

Unlike 1986’s political sleight of hand, this year’s legislation is a tough, credible plan for preventing a new surge of illegal immigration. A quest for unattainable perfection should not be allowed to undo the good that it would achieve.

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