A good chunk of opponents working against immigration reform won't be happy until they see millions of illegal immigrants arrested and marched across the southern border in handcuffs. That's never going to happen, as it is practically impossible, meaning nothing will appease some of the most hard-core opponents of reform.
The Senate's "Gang of Eight," which includes ascending Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, unveiled a new version of the immigration reform bill Friday that may vastly improve our country's disastrous immigration system. Critics had rightly complained the Gang of Eight's bill was too weak on border security, making it little more than a plan for amnesty.
Today, they cannot say as much. The latest version would double our country's number of Border Patrol agents by adding 20,000 positions. It would add 18 unmanned surveillance drones to the border and 350 miles of fencing. It would also add an array of fixed and mobile devices, including infrared sensors and airborne radar.
The new border assets would come into play over 10 years, tracking with the bill's 10-year path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants who meet a rigorous set of standards that includes coming current on all unpaid tax obligations. Before legal residency, immigrants would have no access to Obamacare and the overabundance of other social services available to citizens and legal residents. In the words of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the new bill is "border security on steroids." The border would become as secure as we can make it before anyone would earn legal residency.
It's often difficult to agree with Sen. John McCain, but in this context he's worth quoting.
"If there's anyone who still will argue that the border is not secure after this, then border security is not their reason for opposing a path to citizenship for the people who are in this country illegally," McCain said.
Plenty will argue against this bill no matter what. That's because they have no desire for a working immigration system that could dramatically improve our country's economy. Listening to some opponents on talk radio, and a few congressional opponents, it is clear they like maintaining a system that keeps millions of people as black-market residents who cannot compete in a manner that creates wealth for society.
When opponents of immigration reform complain about legitimate efforts to legalize people whom they refer to as "illegals," they do so in the name of protecting jobs for citizens of the United States. That means they favor using intense and exclusionary federal regulation - something conservatives have traditionally opposed - as a jobs program. We cannot remember the last time conservative Republicans advocated using federal regulation to create and protect jobs, which is something a free market does quite nicely in an environment of minimal regulation.
We remind reform opponents that most human beings are not economic liabilities. Given a produce-or-perish environment - which this bill does by denying benefits - most able-bodied men and women find a way to produce more than they consume because they have no better option. Illegal immigrants, on average, are driven. Most who came here illegally, committing the minor misdemeanor of an illegal border crossing, were motivated to overcome risk to find gainful employment. Others are illegal because they managed to obtain student or work visas that expired. Millions were brought here as infants or young children. None commits a crime by merely residing in a country without permission, which is, by federal law, a civil infraction and not a criminal act.
To create a rigorous path for this workforce to get legal is to create future prosperity. That's what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed when it studied the issue and determined that immigration reform could lower the federal deficit in each of the next two decades. The study found that any federal benefits going to illegal immigrants who earn legal status would be more than offset by a rise in the labor force and therefore an increase in the economy's production. Remember, money isn't wealth. People who work comprise our country's wealth and it comes in the form of goods, services and commodities that are the only significant backing of our currency. The CBO found that newfound wealth, created by legalizing immigrants, would lower federal deficits by $897 billion over the two decades.
Today, given Friday's revisions of the Senate's immigration bill, we have the opportunity to greatly reduce illegal immigration and the number of people who live in our country as underground residents. Our immigration system is badly broken. This bill could not possibly make it worse, and may create a workable system that will benefit us all.