Arizona Amnesty: Rewarding Illegal Aliens

By Mark Krikorian on November 21, 2003

National Review Online, November 21, 2002

The border state of Arizona recently completed an amnesty that allowed violators to get right with the law. Those who did not take advantage of it will now face extra enforcement officers using new computer systems.

But it wasn't for illegal aliens - it was a tax amnesty. It allowed people who hadn't paid their taxes to make arrangements by November 1 to pay up without penalty. The state has collected more than $45 million, with a total of $73 million expected by May, nearly triple what had been predicted.

Too bad the state's congressional delegation didn't check with the Arizona Department of Revenue before proposing their own amnesty in Washington. Sen. John McCain and representatives Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, all Republicans from Arizona, introduced a bill this summer to give green cards to millions of illegal aliens, deceptively labeled the "Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act." The bill was endorsed earlier this month by Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, as well as by a group of Mexican congressmen (members of Mexico's congress, that is) who are part of a pro-amnesty torch run from Mexico City that will reach New York on December 12.

Now, if McCain, Kolbe, and Flake were proposing an amnesty like the one their state just completed (or the ones that Maine and New York City have going right now), that might not be so bad. Giving illegal aliens, say, 60 days to leave the country, no questions asked, with the promise of unflinching enforcement for those who refuse, might be a sound first step toward regaining control of our borders. In fact, South Korea recently completed just such an amnesty and is now rounding up the illegals, from Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, and elsewhere, who chose not to leave.

But the McCain/Kolbe/Flake bill would actually reward some three-quarters of the nine million or so illegal aliens with permanent residence, allowing them eventually to become citizens. What's more, it would provide for the importation of an unlimited number of new permanent immigrants, essentially opening the borders.

Apparently skipping a line on your Arizona tax return is a more serious offense than paying drug smugglers to sneak you into the United States and using forged documents produced by crime syndicates to get illegal employment.

The other amnesty bills being considered by Congress share the same flaw, including a bill by Sen. John Cornyn and a narrower proposal authored by Senators Kennedy and Craig and Representatives Berman and Cannon, which would apply to "only" 800,000-900,000 illegals (and their families) working in agriculture.

The last big McCain-style illegal-alien amnesty was passed in 1986 and consisted of a grand bargain, offering amnesty in exchange for a first-ever ban on hiring illegal aliens. The thinking was to fix the dysfunctional immigration system that had permitted the growth of a large illegal population, but legalize the people who had already gotten in. Of course, since no one had any intention of seriously enforcing the immigration law, every one of the 2.7 million illegal aliens who got green cards was replaced by a new illegal alien in less than ten years.

As Scotty once said, "fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Whether it's a good idea or bad, legalizing illegal aliens shouldn't even be a topic for discussion until after the immigration-control system has been fixed.

Rep. Tom Tancredo this week introduced a bill that underscores this point. Though there is no such thing as a good guestworker scheme, the temporary labor provisions of Tancredo's legislation would not kick in until after the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies that a variety of immigration-control tools are fully implemented and functional.

And this doesn't mean land mines and machine guns - we just need to build on the law-enforcement tools already at our disposal. For instance, after prolonged Democratic opposition, Congress just this week sent to the president legislation to reauthorize and expand the voluntary system which allows participating businesses to verify the legal status of new hires. Also, Rep. Charlie Norwood has introduced the CLEAR Act (H.R. 2671), which would promote cooperation on immigration matters between federal immigration authorities and state and local law enforcement; an indication of the seriousness of this bill is that 111 other representatives have signed on as cosponsors and the open-borders crowd is beginning to vocally attack it.

The supporters of amnesty are essentially defeatist - they figure that since mass immigration into the United States is an unstoppable force of nature, like the tides or the weather, we might as well lie back and pretend to enjoy it.

In fact, though, immigration - even illegal immigration - is a creation of government policy and can be stopped, or at least radically reduced, by government action. But it's not going to happen until we get serious about enforcing the law in order to reduce the illegal population through attrition.

And make sure that the only Arizonans allowed to talk about amnesty work for the state's Department of Revenue.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a Visiting Fellow at the Nixon Center.