Is Amnesty Inevitable? Mexicans Believe It is.
They name their babies Johnny and Leslie, so certain are they that their kids' future lies in the United States. Returning migrants sprinkle English into their speech as they talk knowingly about job markets in U.S. towns.
Mexico's economy, society and political system are built around the assumption that migration and amnesties for undocumented migrants will continue — and that the $20 billion they send home every year will keep coming, and almost certainly grow.
In fact, the government is counting on continued cash from a Mexican-born U.S. population it predicts will rise from 11 million to between 17.9 million and 20.4 million by 2030.
"There have been amnesties and reforms before, and they will continue to occur periodically," said Jesus Cervantes, director of statistics for Mexico's Central Bank.
President Vicente Fox is one of many Mexican who considers the migrants "heroes," because they send money to their impoverished home villages, and in some cases risk death walking into America in pitiless desert sun.
There are various proposals up for adoption.
Bush's PlanBush has not formalized his concepts into legislation, but some specific points he favors have been made public:
He wants Congress to approve a three-pronged approach that calls for tougher border security, aggressive interior enforcement and a temporary guest-worker program.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has said undocumented residents should be allowed to participate in a temporary worker program after paying "substantial" fines.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has ruled out mass deportation, saying it would cost billions of dollars and cause enormous legal and logistical complications.
The administration wants to add border agents and expand detention space and high-tech border surveillance but not put a fence along the full length of the border.
Passed Dec. 16, 239-182, after the House rejected inclusion of a guest-worker program. Some key features:
Tougher penalties on illegal immigrants and businesses that employ them.
The creation of a 700-mile fence in parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas at a cost of $2.2 billion.
Increased penalties for smuggling and for gang members.
More border agents, expanded detention space and high-tech border surveillance.
Reimbursement for sheriffs in 29 border counties for enforcing immigration laws and detaining illegal immigrants.
Deportation of legal immigrants convicted of multiple drunken-driving offenses.
A requirement that all Border Patrol uniforms, many of which have been made in Mexico, be U.S.-made.
An 18-month deadline after enactment for the Homeland Security Department to secure operational control of the border.
The Senate resumes debate this week on bills that include a guest-worker plan and legalization of undocumented immigrants and a separate enforcement-oriented measure. Differences between whatever passes the Senate and the bill passed by the House will have to be worked out in a conference committee.
Senate proposals: Illegal immigrants in the U.S. as of January 2004 could apply for a six-year visa. They must work, show good character, pay $2,000 and pass background checks to get green cards after six years.
After getting their green cards, they could apply for citizenship in five years.
Border patrols, inspectors and detainment facilities would increase.
Boost penalties and expand high-tech surveillance.
Expand and replace fences in sections along the Arizona border.
Something needs to be done. A report in the Charlotte Observer notes that the consequences of no action has put us at risk:
• Illegal workers have received taxpayer money to help build N.C. roads, with neither the federal government nor state agencies requiring contractors to verify workers' documents.
• The IRS and Social Security Administration know of possibly millions of cases in which illegal workers use someone else's Social Security number to get a job -- but they don't let you know if it's your number being used and don't use that information to crack down on the workers.
• The IRS and SSA also don't act upon information that tells them which employers are the most egregious in submitting fraudulent Social Security wage reports -- including one company that used the same Social Security number for 2,580 worker reports.
• Local enforcement officials say they arrest an average of one document counterfeiter every three weeks, and they say there could be hundreds of counterfeit operations in the Charlotte region -- some selling Social Security numbers for as little as $30.
All of which was supposed to be prevented in fall 1986, when House and Senate leaders revived a fragile immigration package just days before Congress adjourned.
The Immigrant Reform and Control Act was historic legislation, supporters said, a responsible mix of open arms and closed doors. Signed quickly by President Ronald Reagan, the law tightened border security while legalizing 3 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
It was, the bill's sponsor believed, the last amnesty this country would need.
Now, Congress is again confronting an immigration system most everyone thinks is flawed -- from Latino advocates who point to decade-long waits to legally enter the U.S., to businesses that point to jobs needing to be filled, to citizens who chafe at the financial strain immigrants put on public schools and social services.
Except now, 20 years have been added to immigration's issues -- two decades of accumulated impatience that is fueling a debate as raw and divisive as ever.
This has happened because 1986 Immigration bills created a "large loophole" followed by the "weak political will of the 1990s."
As a young lawyer in Park County, Wyo., Alan Simpson watched as federal agents rounded up people who looked Mexican beginning in the 1950s as part of a raid called "Operation Wetback." Simpson represented some of the arrested illegal immigrants. The employers, he said, "went their merry way."By 1986, Simpson was chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on immigration and refugee policy, and he co-authored the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act -- the first law to punish employers for hiring illegal immigrants.
He was proud, and is now, that the legislation was the first to penalize employers and not just the illegal immigrants they hired. He was proud of the amnesty that allowed longtime and trouble-free workers to stop fearing the next knock at the door.
"I am very proud of the fact that we brought 2.9 million out of the dark," Simpson said.
Along with border security, the law's primary aim was to dry up jobs for illegal immigrants by penalizing employers who hired them. But like most legislation, IRCA was the product of strategic weakening, as compromises softened those employer sanctions to appease business and Latino advocates.
Also removed from the bill was anything resembling a federal ID system, which immigration groups blasted as discriminatory and civil liberties groups characterized as invasive.
Said one Kentucky representative then of the finished product: "It's the least imperfect bill on the horizon."
To some, IRCA's most significant flaw was an element that hardly had been debated: Employers were required to ask job applicants for documentation proving their legality, but employers did not have to verify that the documents were legitimate.
"In the end, that's how (employers) shield themselves," said immigration lawyer Linda Monsaur. "They hide behind: `Well, we didn't know the Social Security number was fake. It's not our job to check the validity of the Social Security number.' "
That loophole also prompted a cottage industry of fraudulent Social Security numbers, which soon poured into the Social Security Administration as employers sent in annual W2 wage reports. The reports allow the government to track workers' career earnings, which are used to calculate retirement and disability benefits.
The reports also provided a ready-made registry of potential illegal workers, but agencies haven't acted on the information they have.
Instead, Social Security sets aside wage reports that contain names and numbers that don't match its master files. Created in the 1930s, the Earnings Suspense File contains 255 million wage reports that are inaccurate due to mistakes and misuse of Social Security numbers by immigrants and others.
The file ballooned during the 1990s as illegal immigrants poured into the United States, and it represents about $520 billion in earnings paid to workers.
Taxes paid on those earnings help pay Social Security and Medicare benefits.
"They're filling our coffers," said Vincent Gawronski, an immigration expert and political science professor at Birmingham-Southern College. "It's all about the money. The government doesn't want to stop that flow. (Illegal workers) are paying into the system, not drawing down on it."
Unauthorized workers are driving the growth of the suspense file -- which provides a boon for the government because illegal immigrants pay taxes on their earnings but can't, by law, later claim benefits.
Officials say they are trying to reduce the suspense file by helping employers collect accurate information from workers. Social Security offers free verification services for companies striving to help ensure that numbers match the workers. Officials also have pleaded with Congress for help, including earlier this year, when SSA Inspector General Patrick O'Carroll placed the blame for immigration issues bluntly at the doorstep of the Internal Revenue Service.
O'Carroll said the IRS declines to sanction employers who hire workers that are clearly undocumented, and that the SSA is forbidden from sharing information on illegal immigrants with employers and other agencies, such as Homeland Security.
"The information is at our fingertips," O'Carroll told the House Ways and Means Committee in February. "We can identify the most egregious employers with respect to wage reporting irregularities, but no action is taken against them by the IRS."
In turn, IRS officials say a study of those employers showed that most could say they didn't knowingly violate hiring laws -- a claim difficult to disprove given that employers are asked to do little under current law to verify worker documents.
Pursuing those employers would yield little in significant penalties, IRS commissioner Mark Everson told Congress in February. Such an enforcement effort might also frighten companies and employees into doing more business underground. "At least now," Everson said, "we are collecting some taxes in these areas, and we are working to collect more."
But this week, in the wake of a new wave of workplace raids, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he would like his agency to have access to IRS and SSA wage reports, which include names and addresses of invalid users of Social Security numbers. That authority, as well as other changes in immigration law, can only come through Congress.
1990s: Weak political will
In the first two weeks of May 1998 -- the heart of the $70 million Vidalia onion harvest in Georgia -- dozens of federal officers descended on the southeast corner of the state in a hunt for illegal immigrants. The scene was chaotic, with workers scattering from the onion fields, farmers demanding the gun-carrying INS agents get off their land.
Quickly, word of the raids spread to nearby onion farms, and migrant workers began to depart in groups, leaving growers with onions that might soon spoil in the spring sun. The farmers' complaints quickly reached the Georgia congressional delegation, which promptly confronted the INS and sent letters to the secretaries of labor and agriculture.
The result: an unprecedented handshake agreement in which the INS said it would look the other way, temporarily, if the growers would follow immigration law in the future.
The compromise is widely seen as a turning point in immigration, a moment when the INS threw up its hands and stopped aggressively enforcing hiring laws. "The opposition to enforcement was so great that it changed the direction the INS took," said Gordon Hanson, immigrant expert and economics professor at the University of California-San Diego.
Said Doris Meissner, INS commissioner from 1993 to 2000: "Those things affect an agency's morale. You go out of your way to make it work, then it comes to nothing. Very demoralizing."
The onion raids also illustrated the radioactivity of the immigration debate -- and how political will can dissolve when legislators find themselves facing business constituents who want plentiful and inexpensive labor.
"This is an issue where there is no way to pass anything comprehensive without really making somebody mad," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "And politicians love not making people mad."
That sentiment was evident throughout the 1990s, as Congress tried to grapple with an out-of-control immigration system. Its best opportunity for change came in 1996, when legislators were armed with a new solution -- a bill including a federal pilot program that required employers to place a simple, toll-free phone call to verify driver's licenses.
But Republican leaders knew a new bill would pass only with the blessing of small business -- and that any support would vanish if any employers were required to verify that their potentially illegal employees were, in fact, illegal.
When that 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act went to the floor for vote, it included a late change: The pilot verification program would not be mandatory for employers. The bill passed easily.
Former business lobbyist Grover Norquist, a force behind the verification weakening, said: "The idea was that our job is to enforce the present rules that don't work -- rather than change the rules."
U.S. immigration rules don't allow enough people to enter the country to meet job demands, he said. And so "if the door is too small, everybody is coming in through the windows, and nobody gets their IDs checked. Make the door bigger."
In Georgia, Republican Rep. Jack Kingston understands why business is averse to tighter immigration rules. "Employers in roofing and poultry and other areas will say, `Immigrants will work longer and harder,' " he said. Still, he has moved from being one of the 1998 defenders of the onion growers -- "For us, it was just constituent work," he said -- to becoming an outspoken proponent of get-tough immigrant proposals.
Legislative inactivity, he said, has led to rising anger in local communities everywhere as immigrants seek treatment in emergency rooms and send their children to public schools. Now, he said he believes businesses should be required to verify an employee's legal status. He also is in favor of harsher penalties for employers who violate immigration laws.
He doesn't, however, think such sanctions will be part of any new bill.
"The business lobby," he said, "is too strong."
The legislators named in this report are not the only ones who made decisions with apparently unintended consequences. Rocco DiPippo reported on the legislation of Barney Franks who sought to prevent ideology to be the reason for exclusion from the United States.
Big Business Used Immigrant Labor and Now Servicing Immigrants Has Become Big Business.
immigrants are turning to worker centers to help them with problems such as those with employers, landlords, finding shelter and other services, even winning them $1 million dollars in back wages. They have become the immigrants' safety net. It seems that there a lot of lawyers that have hitched their wagons to immigrants' causes.
Naturally politicians are looking to corral the loyalty of new voters that would come about as tens of millions are legalized and "given the opportunity to become citizens."
Voters they would get, but ten to fifteen million mostly low paid immigrants won't add much to the tax base. In fact they will have access to programs that should be reserved for citizens: Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Scholarships, and so on. It is too soon to determine whether or not this new wave of immigrants will be a net gain for the United States as most are uneducated and without the technical and other skills the United States needs to compete. The question is: are we importing poverty and creating a new underclass? The net gain winner will be the Mexico, a country that will receive the benefit of remittance payments and citizens that will hold dual citizenship in Mexico and the United States.
As Healther MacDonald at City Journal puts it:
You have to admire the Mexican elites. They have a clear-sighted understanding of their country’s national interest—which lies above all in getting as many Mexican citizens as possible into the U.S. for their billions of dollars in remittances—and they’re unapologetic about pursuing it. Mass demonstrations that include illegal residents demanding that Mexico override its laws to accommodate them wouldn’t cow those elites for an instant. Too bad American officials can’t summon the same commitment to the wishes of the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose the rewarding of law breaking. The U.S. government isn’t about to deport the thousands of illegals who will be exploiting the American right to protest today, but it should at least not be swayed by their mass show of force.