Immigration Problem Needs an Attrition Policy

By Mark Krikorian on August 28, 2005

The Arizona Republic, August 28, 2005

Those who can, do. Those who won't, declare a state of emergency.

After years of welcoming illegal immigration, Govs. Janet Napolitano and Bill Richardson now see a political tsunami gaining force and are heading for higher ground.

We saw this same thing happen in the mid-1990s, when Arizona was one of several states that attempted to sue the federal government for the fiscal fallout of illegal immigration. Everyone understood that the lawsuits had no chance of success, because the distribution of federal funds is clearly not a judicial issue. But they were a clever political tactic nonetheless, allowing officials to appear responsive to public concerns over immigration without actually doing anything to control it.

Perhaps by design, the political effect of the lawsuits was to focus debate on welfare costs as the problem with immigration. This led Congress to respond by punting on immigration but acting on welfare, denying most legal immigrants access to most welfare programs. Of course, this did nothing to fix our immigration problem.

Like those lawsuits a decade ago, today's emergency declarations have no substance but are intended to convince voters that the real problem with illegal immigration is the disorder that accompanies it. This allows politicians like Napolitano (and many others) to offer yet another non-solution; if disorder is the problem, then the solution is to replace a disorderly (illegal) immigration system with an orderly (legal) one: i.e., a massive amnesty and guest-worker program.

Despite such stunts, Congress will likely reject this approach. In fact, before any consideration is given to proposals for legalizing illegals or launching vast new "temporary" worker schemes, there needs to be a firm commitment to enforcing the law, whatever it is. Why would anyone believe that new laws would be enforced if there was no desire to enforce current law?

Others writing on these pages would have you believe that the federal government has tried but failed to enforce the immigration laws and that now we need to be "realistic" and accept the inevitability of mass immigration. That is patently untrue. Enforcement increases have been almost exclusively focused on the border, and even there our effort remains laughably inadequate.

But enforcement of the immigration laws inside the country has all but stopped. The vast bulk of illegals, even many from the Middle East, are given a green light by the federal government to live and work here. Illegals testify before state legislatures, they give their real names and addresses to be published in the newspaper, they file tax returns and receive refunds from the Internal Revenue Service. All the talk of illegals living "in the shadows" is malarkey.

Ending this climate of impunity is the key to regaining control over immigration. What's needed is a policy of attrition of the illegal population through across-the-board enforcement. This would involve both conventional measures, like arresting and deporting more illegals. But an attrition strategy would also involve other measures - firewalls, you might say - to make it as difficult as possible for illegal aliens to live a normal life here. This would entice fewer to come in the first place and persuade millions who are already here to give up and deport themselves. That would mean no jobs for illegals, no driver's licenses, no bank accounts, no car loans, no mortgages, no business licenses, no access to state colleges.

Over a period of several years, such an attrition strategy would serve to shrink the illegal population to a manageable nuisance, rather than the state of emergency we face today. Only then would it be appropriate even to talk about granting amnesty to some long-term illegals or importing temporary workers.

Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.