When you reward someone for doing something, you encourage others to engage in similar behavior. That’s why amnesty programs are the wrong way to address illegal immigration.
Any program that allows illegal aliens — persons who have entered or stayed in the United States in violation of our immigration laws — to remain in the United States would reward their behavior and encourage others to do the same.
In addition, allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country jeopardizes national security and violates the rule of law. A better policy would involve states and the private sector in identifying illegal workers and encouraging them to return home. Then, if they want, they can apply to re-enter legally.
We are a nation with a strong immigrant foundation. A foundation, that is, of legal immigration. We must keep our doors open to foreigners, but we also must know who’s coming through those doors.
There are millions of illegals in the U.S. today, and there is no sign that this flood of humanity will abate in the near future. It’s simple supply-and-demand. As long as other nations do not provide enough jobs to keep up with their population growth, their citizens will try to cross our border to find work. The opportunities available to undocumented workers in the United States encourage thousands more to enter illegally each month.
This wave of illegals also compromises our homeland security efforts. As long as people can pour across the border unlawfully in search of work, others, such as terrorists, smugglers and criminals, will follow in their path.
However, if there were no jobs available because of stricter enforcement against businesses for wrongful hiring practices, immigrants would have no incentive to enter illegally. This would make policing the border easier, since the only people attempting to sneak in would be terrorists and other criminals.
Reducing the possible number of illegal immigrants makes meeting the challenges involved in securing our borders more attainable. Border security officers could focus more on catching the criminals and terrorists instead of spending the majority of their time and resources chasing illegal workers.
To do this, any new initiative should encourage illegal workers to return to their home countries and then allow them to re-enter legally and find legitimate work. Some of these costs could be covered by a national trust fund supported through voluntary contributions.
As long as they register with authorities before leaving through the US-VISIT program they would be able to reapply for legal entry, without penalty or preference. This is different from an amnesty program that allows “temporary worker” status. That type of program does nothing to encourage legal entry or discourage immigrant workers from breaking the law.
Meanwhile, we need to encourage federal, state and local governments to enforce our laws and work together to improve the security infrastructure at points of entry. Enforcement should include prosecuting benefits fraud, identity theft and tax evasion, in addition to immigration violations.
This would be easier if businesses were better able to identify lawful workers quickly and at a reasonable cost without violating individuals’ rights and privacy. Working with businesses and creating alternatives to bureaucratic, government-run programs would be a more effective policy for getting illegal immigrants out of the country and bringing workers here legally.
The key to an intelligent immigration policy is to remember one central truth: Immigrants who unlawfully enter and remain in the country are violating the law. An amnesty program that ignores this criminal behavior will only contribute to a general disrespect for the law. This is the wrong message to send. We want immigrants to follow the laws of the United States and take them seriously.
The United States must continue to be a beacon to the world. The challenge is to create practical policies that can be fairly implemented and that make our national security a priority.
Edwin Meese III, a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation, served as attorney general under President Reagan. James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at Heritage.
James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.