Who Will Reform the Reformers?

By John Miano on May 14, 2010

I read Sen. Reid's call to address the "challenge of fixing our broken immigration system" with great amusement.

Sen. Reid correctly notes that, "We have to replace this broken system with one that works."

The paradox, one that I have noted here previously, is that fixing the immigration system must be done by the same folks that broke it in the first place: Congress.

Congress has become so beholden to lobbyists that real immigration reform is not possible until real campaign finance reform and real lobbying reform. Of course, we already had campaign finance reform and the result was a system even more corrupt than before – thus illustrating the rationality of public skepticism over "immigration reform."

To average Americans, the term "comprehensive immigration reform" means that we throw the current system out and start over. A rational process would set an immigration budget of how many immigrants and guest workers the country will take each year. Then the process would determine how that immigration budget would be allocated. We would recognize that no system can work perfectly for every situation. However, we would create a system that handles most of the cases and endure the problems created by the outliers.

Such a clean state would set up clear paths such that there would be no need (or at least less need) for immigration lawyers.

In Washington-speak, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" is a euphemism for an amnesty for illegal aliens plus whatever goodies lobbyists can get slipped in. Ironically, it lacks one major element: Reform.

A simple example illustrates the problem of having Congress fix its own mess:

• The McCarran-Walter Act (Immigration Act of 1952) established the current immigration system. That act was 120 pages (about 15,000 words).

• The Kennedy "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act" of 2007 (S. 1348) was 790 pages (about 125,000 words).

In Congress's current state of lobbyist control, "comprehensive reform" of the system requires many times more pages of legislation than it took to create the system in the first place.

There are three major reasons for this state of affairs:

1. People who game the system want the system to be as complicated as possible. Those who create complicated laws (i.e. lawyers) can sell their services to navigate those laws.

2. In 21st century Washington, a major bill becomes an opening for lobbyists to ply their wares of legislation for campaign cash. When bills became this large, only a dedicated few people actually read them.

The 2007 "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" was simply a disgrace. Had it been enacted, we would have had the same immigration system we have now plus a patchwork of 790 pages of new provisions. The immigration system would be an even bigger mess than it is now. While the debate over amnesty for illegal aliens killed this embarrassing monstrosity, it also distracted attention from extent of legislative prostitution that this bill represented. The shameful guestworkers-galore provisions deserved much more attention than they received.

I am certain that most Americans agree with Sen. Reid's statement that "We have to replace this broken system with one that works." The problem is few Americans believe Sen. Reid and his colleagues can be trusted with the task.