The Senate has passed an “immigration reform” bill which does not reform our immigration system.  It makes the problems caused by our immigration “system,”  de facto amnesty for millions of  uneducated and unskilled workers at a time of high unemployment, worse.  It does so in two ways: 1)the border will not be enforced, and 2)illegal immigrants will stay in the labor force and consume more public benefits than they pay in taxes.

The proponents of the bill succeeded in pushing through the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which supposedly adds 40,000 new border guards and other tools to secure the Mexican border.  This sounds good, but will it happen?  The history of border enforcement suggests no.  To cite but one recent example, in 2006 Congress enacted the Secure Fence Act which mandated construction of “at least two layers of reinforced fencing” along 650 designated miles.  Only 40 miles have been built.  And in 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act, very much along the lines of what the Senate has passed, gave amnesty to all illegal immigrants then in the country in exchange for workplace enforcement.  Employers would be required, for the first time, to verify that their new hires were legally authorized for employment.  Theoretically, this concept would have “dried up” the insatiable demand for cheap labor.  But the I.N.S. (now D.H.S.) barely enforced the law, and soon the major employers of illegals were back hiring whom they pleased with impunity.  Then Congressman Charles Schumer even tried to repeal the employer sanctions after they were enacted.  Now he is the chief sponsor of the Senate bill.  Does he really want enforcement?  Or is he counting on 8 million new Democratic voters once they obtain citizenship?  (Hispanics voted 71% for President Obama last year and constituted a record 10% of the voters.  Romney won 59% of the white vote.  Therefore, in 13 years, when the illegals will obtain citizenship under the Senate bill, something like 8-9 million new Democrats will be enfranchised making it impossible for a Republican to ever win a presidential election.)

Private citizens cannot sue DHS for violating the Secure Fence Act.  Contrast that with an act of the executive branch which actually injures private citizens, such as by conducting a warrantless arrest or snooping of one’s email.  Those acts can be instantly redressed by a civil rights 1983 suit against the federal official who committed the unconstitutional act.  But nobody has standing to challenge the failure to build a border fence in federal court.

Will the DHS be more aggressive about building the fence now than in 2006 when it was controlled by a Republican?  Or to put the question in pragmatic terms, does the Obama administration really favor a secure border?  Reflecting popular sentiment, the President and his DHS Director say they they do and favor whatever measures are deemed necessary to enact the bill.  But in practice they have done nothing to comply with the Secure Fence Act.  No fence has been built since Obama came to office.  And the DHS has granted extra-legal work permits to young illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors as well as decreeing that the agency would not deport illegals unless they committed a violent crime.  Can an administration proclaim to be against illegal immigration while legalizing illegal immigrants?  The question is Orwellian and we skeptics who judge by actions rather than words should not feel appeased by all of the tough talk.

The most obvious way to pass a law which tries to execute conflicting objectives (securing the border and giving illegals legal status) would be to do part one first and only implement part two when that is done.  But this has been rejected in favor of a mere certification from DHS that the border is basically secure.  Then, legalization is implemented.  Again, DHS has every incentive to wiggle out of a sincere certification so that part two gets underway as quickly as possible.

The second issue is the economic effects of allowing the illegal immigrants here to obtain legal status.  They are overwhelmingly poorly educated, unskilled and come from Mexico (Pew Hispanic Center).  As I’ve written last month, admitting millions of low-skill workers into the labor market means they compete with Americans with high school educations for jobs resulting in lower wages and higher unemployment.  Why do we want this?  If we are to have immigrants, they should contribute skills to our economy and not become public charges.  The Congressional Budget Office’s study, which has been cited by proponents of the bill, concludes it will depress wages for lower skilled workers and  raise unemployment until 2020.  The good news is that the Bill’s increased level of legal immigration for high skilled workers will “generate additional technological advancements” thereby raising productivity.  But to reiterate, there is no upside to increased low-skilled immigration.

Proponents of the Senate bill have nothing to say about this except nostalgia.  Senator Lindsay Graham stated: “One of the critics of this bill…said the average illegal immigrant has a tenth grade education.  Well, all I can tell you is you’ve got a United States Senator who came from parents that didn’t have a tenth grade education.”  Senator Graham is ignoring the demographic data indicating that uneducated immigrants are a net drain on the treasury, costing the federal government billions more each year than they pay in taxes. .  How does he think they will fit into the information age economy, which is not the one his parents faced as high school drop outs?   He cited no empirical data for his optimism.

Senator Flake of Arizona, who’s arguments for the bill were also steeped in nostalgia, offers a reminder that the demand for illegal labor will continue.  Recalling his youth in Arizona, he stated: “we worked alongside migrant labor, undocumented migrant labor, largely from Mexico, who worked harder than we did under conditions much more difficult than we endured.”  As long as this remains true, American employers will crave illegal Mexican labor.  Senator McCain pointed out that the Senate bill eventually requires all employers to use the E-Verify system to check the employment authorization of new hires.  But that requirement is phased in over five years.  Why?  (Could it be that employers don’t want to raise their labor costs?  When was the last time any employer voluntarily agreed to unionize its employees?)  But McCain simply overlooks reality.  The current law also requires all employers to check the documents of new hires.  If that isn’t working, why will E-Verify?  He simply elides the real problem: does the nation have the political will to punish employers who cheat?  Nothing we’ve leaned in this debate indicates they do or we are any more serious now than in 1986 and 2006 about enforcement.