The last legislative effort to enact a massive amnesty for illegal aliens in the U.S. ended in bitter disappointment for proponents in 2007.
Aside from the visceral opposition most Americans have toward rewarding illegal behavior, they also harbored deep doubts that the government would carry through on a new set of enforcement promises when the old ones were so obviously not being kept. This sense of basic unfairness and healthy skepticism translated into highly charged public opposition which eventually convinced the politicians to kill the proposal.
Amnesty proponents have apparently absorbed the lessons of 2007. As they embark on yet another legislative effort in 2013, they are aggressively attacking the obstacles that tripped up their last attempt. The strategy boils down to declaring victory over illegal immigration and asserting that there has been a sea change in public opinion.
The Obama administration — everyone from the president, to his secretary of homeland security, and on down the food chain — is telling anyone who will listen that our borders “are more secure than ever,” and that laws against illegal immigration are being assiduously enforced. Meanwhile, the pro-amnesty camp has churned out a series of expertly crafted opinion polls purporting to show that Americans now favor their approach to immigration reform. The unmistakable message to skeptics is that amnesty is inevitable and it is useless to resist.
It turns out that neither of these assertions is true. Illegal immigration has not been tamed, and most Americans still prefer a policy of enforcement over amnesty.
A series of memos issued by John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), explicitly limits immigration enforcement to serious criminals and potential terrorists. Under the Morton memos, virtually all other immigration law violators are designated as low priority and given a de facto pass.
In addition, President Obama, without authorization from Congress, is implementing a backdoor amnesty program — known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — for millions of illegal aliens under the age of 31. These illegal aliens are exempt from removal for at least two years and receive work authorization in spite of the fact that they are statutorily barred from employment.
The most convincing refutation of the administration’s claims of aggressive enforcement of immigration laws comes from the men and women whose job it is to enforce those laws. In sworn testimony before Congress this month, Chris Crane, the president of the union representing ICE personnel, called the current state of immigration enforcement “a joke.”
Crane told Congress that ICE personnel are under orders not to enforce immigration laws except in very limited circumstances and are threatened with retribution if they do. Illegal aliens are encouraged to lie to ICE officials, as law enforcement officers are required to accept any claim that an alien qualifies for DACA relief.
Likewise, the claim that the American public has collectively changed its mind on amnesty for illegal aliens does not stand up to close scrutiny. Polls purporting to show support for “earned legalization” or “a pathway to citizenship” are generally paired with the unrealistic option of mass deportation (or no alternative at all).
However, other polls, including one by Reuters/Ipsos and another by Pulse Opinion Research commissioned by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), show that when a realistic enforcement option is offered, American voters still prefer enforcement over amnesty by a wide margin. When asked to consider sensible enforcement measures that discourage illegal aliens from coming and remaining — such as effective workplace enforcement and limiting access to many public benefits and services — the Pulse poll found voters favor enforcement.
The same poll also shows widespread rejection of the administration’s claims that it is effectively enforcing immigration laws. A scant 2 percent of voters believe that the government is doing an effective job “preventing illegal immigrants from living and working in the U.S.” and only 19 percent even think a “somewhat effective” job is being done.
Nor do voters have much confidence that immigration laws would be enforced effectively even after an amnesty. Only 5 percent are “very confident” that future illegal immigration would be curtailed and just 21 percent are even “somewhat confident.”
Thus, two critical elements of the case for amnesty are far from established fact. It is one thing to declare victory over illegal immigration and fabricate consensus for amnesty. Convincing Americans to disbelieve their eyes, ears, and instincts is proving much more difficult.
Dan Stein is the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).