USA Today, November 16, 2006
President Bush and his Democratic allies on immigration are pointing to the results of last week's elections as a mandate for what they call "comprehensive" reform - but what most people would rightly call amnesty for illegal aliens.
The results suggest nothing of the kind; in the face of deep discontent with Republicans over Iraq and a cascade of scandals, immigration probably didn't decide any races at all, largely because most Democrats wisely avoided any mention of amnesty and focused on enforcement.
Assuming the election analysis by the president and others is a sincere mistake, however, it likely stems from a misunderstanding of the options we face to deal with the illegal population of about 12 million people. Almost all polling has offered respondents only the unpalatable choice of mass deportations or amnesty.
But there is a third way, and that is the approach embodied in the bill passed nearly a year ago by the House. Sometimes called "attrition through enforcement," such a policy would strictly enforce immigration laws (something we have never tried) so as to limit new illegal settlement and cause illegal immigrants already here to go home over time.
The result would be an annual decrease in the illegal population, instead of continuing increases. Research by my Center for Immigration Studies found that this approach could cut the illegal population by half in five years, requiring only a modest increase in resources and using only normal law-enforcement tools.
In a pre-election poll of likely voters, done for the center by the Polling Company Inc. using neutral language (i.e., without the words "amnesty" or "aliens"), 44% backed enforcing laws "to cause illegal immigrants to go home over time." An additional 20% wanted roundups and deportations; only 31% supported legalization. When offered the full range of choices, amnesty is rejected 2-1.
Supporters of legalization would do well to keep this in mind, lest they be surprised in the presidential election of 2008.
Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.