Immigration Reform And Counter-Terrorism Are Intertwined
The headlines from Friday show yet another terror attack, again in France. A French national of Tunisian origin drove a truck laden with explosives into a crowd of celebrants, who had just seen a fireworks show highlighting France’s Independence Day. The attack is horrific and unsettling, and yet, also a grim reminder how important it is that immigrants culturally assimilate and adopt the values of the host country. As we unfortunately saw in San Bernardino and Orlando, these style attacks could continue in the United State unless our government takes affirmative steps and closes the immigration loop.
In the 2016 presidential campaign, the presumptive nominees of the two major parties hold decidedly different views on immigration reform. The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, looks to double down on President Obama’s policy to legalize the approximately 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants estimated by the Pew Research Center to be living in the U.S. On the other side of the political spectrum, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, has suggested we build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the USA. The last recommendation is perhaps partially driven by the fact that the perpetrators in San Bernardino and Orlando were second generation Muslim-Americans.
Somewhere in between these candidates’ political positions is a sound balanced policy that is reminiscent of the proposal put forth by President Bush (43) which had five elements: (1) enhanced border security, (2) enhanced worksite compliance, (3) a temporary worker program, (4) a program that deals with the current population of illegal residents, and (5) programs to ensure assimilation into the fabric of American society.
Border security is a basic responsibility of any sovereign nation and is imperative for our national security. In 2005, when I worked at the White House, we were playing catch up after years of border security neglect. We saw the numbers of Border Patrol agents double from 9,000 to 18,000, greatly increased the use of physical barriers, and expanded the use of technology at the border. While there are still holes that need to be addressed, we now have the tools, if we can muster the will, to effectively control our borders.
And yet no amount of border security will be completely effective if U.S. jobs are readily available for unlawful workers. Therefore, any comprehensive solution requires an enhanced and mandatory worksite compliance and enforcement system.
But enforcement alone is not enough. The U.S. has always benefited from foreign students, high-skilled workers and temporary, non-immigrant workers. Comprehensive reform must expand legal channels allowing these individuals to come to the US. Comprehensive immigration reform must ensure an orderly flow of temporary workers. The Departments of State and Homeland Security have robust vetting requirements for interviewing and determining admissibility of the applicants. We should not simply shut down the cross border flow of people. This does not cover the refugee programs that are highlighted with Syria. The issues with vetting refugees from an active war zone should not be confused with the vetting programs deployed for immigrant and non-immigrant visas.
This reform must also account for the millions of immigrants already in the country illegally. Deporting millions of individuals is not feasible or practical. We should continue to focus resources on deporting criminals. Given that many of these immigrants have worked hard to support their families, led responsible lives, and become a part of American life, we have to find a way to invite these immigrants to move out of the shadows and under the rule of American law.
Finally, effective reform of our immigration system also means promoting assimilation of these new Americans into our robust society. Experience has shown America’s generous capacity for absorbing great waves of immigrants. Every new citizen should have an obligation, and indeed a thirst to learn the English language and understand the customs and values that make us America. At the same time, the role of our public, private and religious institutions does not end with passage of overdue legislation. These institutions all must share a role guiding new immigrants through the process of assimilation. Having a marginalized, completely segregated population can promote major security and societal problems.
If we do not have the political will to address immigration in a rational manner, we all stand to lose. Both parties must recognize that there are legitimate points on both sides. If not, we should not be surprised to see the number of individuals unlawfully in the U.S. continue to rise and, what is more frightening, an escalation of terror strikes here that Europe is facing today.
Douglas Baker is Cofounder and Managing Partner of Monument Capital Group, a private investment and advisory firm focused on opportunities in Global and National Security. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Border and Transportation Security Policy under President George W. Bush.