The Conservative path to immigration reform
Liam Stewart | Monday, September 26, 2016
Across the political spectrum, public figures frequently refer to the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.” To some extent, this is almost certainly true: American history is inseparably linked to the experiences and achievements of American immigrants.
Even today, the U.S. remains the world’s most popular destination for immigration, attracting about 20 percent of the world’s international migrants. The inflow of foreign students, scientists and engineers has been a key factor that has enabled the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge in research and development.
However, to suggest that because the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, it should not defend its borders from illegal immigration is idiotic and dangerously naive. The U.S. is a sovereign nation with the means of facilitating safe and lawful migration. It is a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws, and there is no reason to believe these concepts are mutually exclusive.
As a first generation immigrant to the United States, the issue of immigration is one I care deeply about. My family immigrated to this country when I was 13 years old — we did so legally. American tech companies like Microsoft, my father’s employer, provide over 85,000 H-1B visas each year, and they are in high demand. Employment-based visas like these attract highly skilled individuals to come and work in the U.S., and many become American citizens. These individuals immigrate legally, usually retain well-paid jobs, purchase goods, pay taxes and peacefully assimilate into the “melting pot” of American culture.
America is a free-market society, and labor is an essential part of that market. The role of government is to facilitate this movement of labor in a way that benefits the national economy and keeps America safe. Americans of all backgrounds, including most legal immigrants, just want to see immigration law enforced in a manner that is firm but fair. Before Congress can address the issue of amnesty or the limits of employment-based immigration, it must ensure that the border is secure, and that the executive branch is willing to enforce the law.
In 2014, an enormous surge of illegal immigrants, including thousands of unaccompanied children, flooded across the U.S. southern border. This crisis triggered a Senate inquiry into Homeland Security and its ability to assist and apprehend aliens at the border. A report from the GAO found that just 44 percent of the border was under “operational control.” State and local law enforcement officers were legally prohibited from making arrests or providing meaningful assistance to federal agents. Due to the limited capacity of detention facilities, roughly 41,000 immigrants arrested crossing the border were released into the U.S. pending immigration hearings. Unsurprisingly, almost 70 percent of these individuals never showed up for their hearings.
In the aftermath of the 2014 crisis, President Obama announced he would take action to “make our immigration system more fair and more just.” Instead of addressing border security concerns, the President issued a series of executive orders, effectively shielding up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation. As you might expect, this announcement infuriated Republican lawmakers and triggered an avalanche of public outrage. In response, the President employed the concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” arguing that the executive branch has the power to prosecute criminals as it sees fit.
Since 2010, executive directives have made entire categories of illegal immigrants exempt from deportation, even in cases where aliens are charged with or convicted of crimes. According to the Department’s own data, federal agents declined to deport 68,000 criminal aliens in 2013 alone. These convictions included everything from traffic violations to sexual assault and even homicide.
As the nation’s chief executive, President Obama should be held accountable for the failures of federal agents to detain illegal immigrants and deport criminal ones. President Obama’s executive amnesty policies and failure to enforce existing immigration laws have demonstrated not only his unwillingness to work with Republicans, but his blatant disregard for the constitutional limitations of his office. No matter how frustrated a president becomes with Congress, he does not have the authority to circumvent the elected representatives of the people. The power of the President is limited to faithfully executing the law, not unilaterally creating it.
The issue of immigration has become increasingly polarized, dividing Americans between political extremes like categorical amnesty and radical protectionism. Neither of these approaches will ensure U.S. security while still allowing for the economic benefits of legal immigration. A wall is not enough. Amnesty is not enough.
What this country needs is a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes both conservative and liberal ideas. The first step on this path must begin with the President, and his constitutional duty to administer the law with fidelity and objectivity. Only then can the legislative branch begin to debate and reform the immigration and naturalization system.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.