Today in the National Review, Kevin Williamson proposes five ways to end illegal immigration. His suggestions are highly problematic, and yet are so prevalent in conversations about this topic that it is time to dismantle each one once and for all.
1. Prohibit unauthorized immigrants from ever receiving citizenship. This law has existed for many years. It’s codified in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, yet the unauthorized population has continued to rise.
2. Prohibit unauthorized immigrants from ever being legally permitted to enter the country. Current law already bans anyone who was illegally present in the United States for more than a year from reentering legally for 10 years, also under INA 212. Since virtually no one is going to take that deal, it has the same impact as Williamson’s suggestion—but has had the perverse effect of encouraging people to stay here illegally rather than returning to “get in line.” Since the law was first enacted in 1996, the illegal population in the United States has exploded.
3. Require employers to verify the work authorization of employees. This is also current law under INA 274A. It’s called the I-9. Williamson wants criminal penalties. But current law already allows for those for any pattern of violations (again INA 274A). Williamson proposes to require mandatory E-Verify, an electronic employment verification system that uses social security numbers. Yet wherever E-Verify has been required at the state level, it hasn’t worked. In Arizona, for example, E-Verify lowered average wage gain for unauthorized immigrants moving from Mexico from 253 percent to 240 percent (a negligible difference).
4. Require the I-9 for other activities. The I-9 system is a complete failure—everyone admits this, including Williamson—so why does he think it will work for cashing a check or renting a hotel room when it has failed to stop illegal employment? Perhaps he wants to mandate E-Verify for these activities as well, creating a national ID tracking system for all Americans. If so, Williamson fails to explain why he thinks E-Verify will work here when it has failed for employment.
5. Prohibit unauthorized immigrants from receiving work permits. This is the only part of his plan that would substantially change current law, but it’s the exact opposite of what the United States should do if it wants to end illegal immigration. The United States should grant work permits to immigrants. It’s the only proven way to end illegal immigration, but it should do it before they enter rather than after.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States lowered the number of illegal entries to less than 50,000 for the only time since World War II. It did so by allowing immigrants to enter with work permits under the Bracero guest worker program. Recently, the United States has also dramatically increased the number of work visas granted to Mexican immigrants, and it has again cut illegal immigration to its lowest levels since the 1970s.
Why doesn’t Williamson recognize that the easy solution to illegal immigration is to legalize immigration? My guess is that he is less concerned with ending illegal immigration than he is with reducing immigration in general. If that is correct, he should just be forthcoming, rather than claim that he is simply concerned with adhering to the law. If we want to follow laws—and we do—we need to make the laws easier to follow.