Ten Points for a Successful Presidential Candidate

Re: Immigration

By Mark Krikorian on May 23, 2005

National ReviewMay 23, 2005

The next presidential election may be years away, but potential candidates are already staking out positions on issues that should figure prominently. One of these is certain to be immigration, and one likely candidate for 2008 is already working to develop a tough, pro-enforcement image.

Unfortunately, that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

Her grade of F from Americans for Better Immigration, a group lobbying for stricter immigration rules, hasn't stopped her from dropping comments to reporters like "I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants," and "People have to stop employing illegal immigrants." Of course, the only reason Hillary thinks she has a chance of outflanking the GOP on the right is that the president's immigration policies are terrible. It is therefore an opportune time to outline an immigration agenda for the 2008 presidential candidates. Here is a ten-point package, which includes both measures that a candidate should pledge to undertake on his own, and legislative changes that he should promote, as president.

1. Unambiguous commitment to enforcement. No candidate for chief executive can be taken seriously unless he enunciates a clear and unequivocal determination to execute the immigration law, whatever it happens to be. Presidential contenders don't come out and say they oppose enforcement, of course, but experience shows that's exactly what they mean when they offer the usual mealy-mouthed generalities.

It's not just a matter of pledging to pursue specific policies; rather, given the long history of government-ignored lawbreaking, the whole enforcement environment needs to change. A strong candidate will promise to end the climate of impunity for border-jumping, and illegal employment, and fake documents, and immigration fraud. In other words, apply to immigration the lessons of "broken windows" policing, learned from New York and elsewhere. (Under this policing, you crack down on all infractions, no matter how small, to reduce crime overall.) Equally important, the candidate should pledge that when the inevitable complaints come in from the many beneficiaries of illegal immigration, the White House will support those charged with enforcing the law, rather than hanging them out to dry, as has been the practice up to now.

2. No Hobson's choice. Comprehensive enforcement is a tactic; a candidate also needs to articulate a strategy for success. This entails rejecting the false choice between mass roundups and amnesty. Since everyone agrees that mass roundups like the ill-named Operation Wetback of the 1950s aren't going to occur, the anti-enforcement camp says that amnesty, and an unending stream of "temporary" workers, is the only alternative.

But a third way, and the only workable approach, is to use consistent, across-the-board enforcement as part of a strategy of attrition, causing fewer illegals to come and more of those already here to leave, so that the total illegal population declines from year to year, instead of continually rising. This is the same approach that worked so well with welfare reform, where the GOP rejected the Democratic vision of ever-growing welfare rolls, but didn't just throw all the recipients out on the street. A long-term, strictly enforced policy can stem the tide of immigration without resorting to mass roundups and without throwing in the towel with mass amnesty.

3. Take amnesty off the table. Amnesty should not even be a legitimate topic for discussion until after we regain control of the immigration system. Terms like "legalization," "normalization," and the ever-popular "phased-in access to earned regularization" are simply euphemisms for amnesty, i.e., giving legal status to illegal aliens. Having an amnesty at the front end of any immigration initiative guarantees failure. In 1986, nearly 3 million illegals were legalized, while promises of enforcement to prevent future illegal immigration were quickly abandoned. As a result, today's illegal population is twice as large as it was before the 1986 amnesty.

There is one kind of amnesty, however, that a presidential candidate could endorse -- one modeled after parking-ticket or tax amnesties, giving illegal aliens 90 days to get right with the law by leaving the country. Those who left would face no penalty if they later applied to immigrate or visit; those who did not leave would be, when caught, barred permanently from future reentry.

4. No illegal workers. Employment is the chief draw for most illegals to the United States, and denying them jobs must be the centerpiece of any attrition strategy. Although the employment of illegal aliens was prohibited by Congress in 1986, opponents of that bill neutered it by disallowing any workable verification system. Several voluntary online pilot programs for employers to check their employees' statuses were subsequently authorized, and have proven popular with businesses, but they expire in 2008. A pro-enforcement candidate should pledge not only to renew the programs, but also to make them a universal, mandatory part of the normal hiring process.

A candidate should also pledge an immediate, simple fix that would help deny employment to illegals. The IRS and the Social Security Administration should be instructed to stop accepting fake Social Security numbers or numbers that don't match the employees' names -- most, if not all, of these cases are illegal aliens using fake or stolen numbers. For nearly 20 years, the two agencies have been facilitating illegal employment by looking the other way, and refusing to notify employers of fake numbers. (They cite privacy concerns and a lack of jurisdiction as grounds for staying quiet.) The one exception that proves the rule is a Social Security initiative that sent 1 million "no match" letters to employers in 2003; it was so effective in revealing illegal aliens that business and ethnic lobbying groups, which adamantly oppose any tightening of immigration rules, had the administration shut it down. Ending this absurd situation -- immediately, right after the parade on January 20, 2009 -- must be a top priority for a pro-enforcement candidate.

5. Work with states and localities. The nation's 700,000 state and local police encounter immigration violators every day in the course of their duties. Some jurisdictions prohibit police from working with federal immigration authorities, while others that do try to turn over illegal aliens in their custody are often rebuffed by the feds, who point to a lack of resources. A presidential candidate should promote better cooperation by supporting legislative measures such as the CLEAR Act, which aims to systematize the relationship between local law and federal immigration officials, as well as administrative measures, like encouraging immigration-law training for police, and enforcing the federal ban on local "sanctuary" policies that prohibit police from using immigration law as a tool to fight crime. The point is not to turn cops into immigration officers, but to give local authorities enhanced law-enforcement abilities and to make sure that, when illegals come their way, local police can turn them over to the feds.

6. Document security. Ensuring that documents are legitimate and are issued only to the deserving is an indispensable tool of immigration enforcement. Congress may already have begun to deal with this by the next election, since it is now considering a bill that would set minimum standards for state driver's licenses. But perhaps even more problematic than inconsistent license rules is the spreading acceptance of consular registration cards, chiefly Mexico's "matricula consular" card, which functions as an illegal-alien ID; when accepted by U.S. jurisdictions as a valid ID for everything from bank accounts to air travel, it represents a de facto amnesty. (Anyone in the U.S. legally will have at least some form of U.S.-issued identification, whether a Social Security card or a travel visa.) The administration has been sending mixed messages about the matricula consular, with the FBI highlighting its security risks while the Treasury department explicitly approves its use by banks. Any candidate claiming to support immigration control must send a clear message that such documents have no validity in the United States.

7. Check in/check out. The administration is slowly phasing in the US-VISIT program, which will track the arrival and departure of foreign visitors. Unfortunately, a decision was made to exempt from the program nearly all Mexicans and Canadians. Since these countries account for the vast majority of foreigners coming here (85 percent), such a policy is clearly a violation of Congress's intent in mandating this check-in/check-out system in the first place. A pro-enforcement candidate must pledge to end these exemptions.

8. Streamline legal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security is choking on immigration. There is a bewildering array of legal-immigration categories, extending far beyond the goals of admitting world-class geniuses, nuclear families of Americans, and people certain to be persecuted if they return home. A sign of the system's dysfunction is that some 4 million people are on waiting lists to immigrate under one category or another, often with decades-long waits in store -- and the list never gets any shorter. In fact, it might be more accurate not even to call it "legal" immigration, since so many in the queue are already living here illegally and are merely using the system to launder their status from illegal to legal.

We can't expect the Augean stables to be cleaned overnight. But at a minimum, a candidate who is serious about reforming immigration can pledge to end the legal-immigration program's two most egregious elements: the visa lottery and the admission category for adult brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. The lottery was concocted as a way to give green cards to Irish illegal aliens who did not meet the criteria of the 1986 amnesty, but has morphed into an immigration program that benefits regions it was never intended to, like Africa and the Middle East; it has no constituency, no rationale, and survives mainly out of inertia. As to the second, there's no "family unification" argument justifying immigration rights for naturalized immigrants' adult siblings, who have their own families and their own lives. This category is responsible for some of the worst backlogs and is also largely responsible for endless chain immigration -- an immigrant brings his brother, whose wife then brings her sister, and so on.

Any change of this kind would have to pass Congress. But there are administrative measures a future president could take to introduce some rigor into the "legal" immigration system, chief among them a new approach to immigration fraud. Both the written rules and management practice now send the clear message to our immigration adjudicators here and to our visa officers overseas that fraud should not be a serious concern. (For example, immigrants are not punished for lying on some parts of the application, provided it doesn't affect the final decision.) The result is predictable: a profusion of fraud, from bogus family relationships to fake home-country diplomas. A new environment of zero tolerance for lies is an essential part of any effort to have the immigration law taken seriously again.

9. "Temporary" visas. These visa programs are among the most offensive. Roughly one-third of the illegal-alien population -- some 3 million people -- are believed to have come in on "temporary" visas and then never left. In addition, perhaps one fourth of each year's "new" permanent immigrants already live here on temporary visas, even though they swore to our consular officers that they had no intention of staying.

The different types of visas are designated by letters (F for students, H for workers, etc.), and they're proliferating at such a rate that we're almost out of letters, with Congress inventing T, U, and V visas in the past few years to bring the total number to over 20 -- excluding the numerous sub-categories. And, naturally, the numbers are rising much faster than the growth of our economy or any other yardstick. In just a four-year period in the late 1990s, the number of B visas for tourists and business travelers grew 26 percent, J visas for foreign exchange (or rather "foreign exchange," since many are really here to work) went up 40 percent, intracompany transferees (the L visa) jumped 51 percent, and the H category skyrocketed 116 percent.

The issue is large and complicated -- that is to say, it is not conducive to extensive discussion in a political campaign. But a candidate who is genuinely interested in reasserting control over the immigration system must commit to certain principles: "Temporary" should actually mean temporary, and the visa system should never be used to bypass American workers or to create a market-distorting dependency on guest workers. As a first step, a candidate should pledge to oppose any expansion of numbers or categories pending a bottom-up reexamination of the rationale and functioning of the entire system.

10. Actively discourage dual citizenship. A new citizen swears that "I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen." Of course, like everything else in immigration policy, this no longer means what it says. Dual citizenship -- what Teddy Roosevelt called "a self-evident absurdity" -- is now formally acknowledged by the federal government. Almost all immigrants presently come from countries that permit some form of dual citizenship, for a total potential number of at least 50 million, and, pragmatic considerations aside, dual citizenship undermines the very principle of U.S. citizenship -- that one's entire "allegiance and fidelity" is to the United States.

No conservative presidential candidate can let this stand. There are a number of immediate, symbolic measures that could reinforce the exclusivity of American citizenship; my favorite is to prepare a list of newly naturalized citizens each quarter, deliver it to the embassy of the immigrant's original country, and inform that government that these people are no longer their concern.

But beyond symbolic gestures, a candidate should offer legal proposals as well. The problem here is not dual citizens who do nothing with their other citizenship -- or are unaware that they even are citizens of another country -- but those who take advantage of their dual status. The old practice of
stripping U.S. citizenship from a person who commits an "expatriating act" (e.g., voting in a foreign election) was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967 and is not worth reviving. Instead, expatriating acts should simply be reclassified as federal offenses; thus, if an American citizen, native-born or immigrant, were to run for office in a foreign country -- or serve in the government, or vote, or just use a foreign passport while traveling -- he would remain secure in his American citizenship, but would be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties.

A Sure Winner

Immigration isn't a natural phenomenon like the weather. It is a government program, and the reforms suggested above represent conservative goals for any government program: order, fairness, predictability, transparency, and consequences for those who break the rules. Not only are these recommendations sensible, they are also very popular with the public. It is an ideal issue for solidifying the Republican base and for reaching out to Reagan Democrats. Politicians often make the mistake of thinking there's a risk in supporting tight controls on immigration, because the people they most frequently hear from are lobby groups or members of the elite, but immigration is an issue where the gap between public and elite views could not be wider. The true risk is in not addressing immigration. As David Frum wrote in these pages at the end of last year, "Immigration for Republicans in 2005 is what crime was for Democrats in 1965 or abortion in 1975: a vulnerable point at which a strong-minded opponent could drive a wedge that would shatter the GOP."

The silent majority on immigration is becoming increasingly restive and vocal, and this issue will only intensify as the next election approaches. Aspiring GOP candidates should capitalize on the current disquiet and seize the political high ground before their opponents beat them to it. Anyone desiring conservative support, and the Republican nomination, would be wise to adopt the above plan. It would be a shame to have to get used to saying "President Clinton" again. Wouldn't it?

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



Topics: Politics