March 3, 2006
National Press Club
Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Bill King, Retired Border Patrol Agent
Mike Cutler, Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies
Philip Martin, Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of California, Davis
Steven Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies
MR. KRIKORIAN: Will Rogers had a joke that he wasn't worried so much about what people didn't know as what people did know that just wasn't true, and unfortunately, that seems to be the guiding philosophy of the immigration debate in Washington.
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began its mark-up of an immigration bill that would be the counterpart to a bill the House of Representatives passed in December, and unlike the House bill, the proposals -- various proposals in the Senate -- contain different versions of guestworker programs for the admission of future workers as well as amnesty programs of one kind or another for illegal immigrants who are already here. The problem is that there are a lot of basic things that people in this debate, especially in Congress, seem to know that just aren't true, and I wanted to put a panel together to address some of these issues, the administrative feasibility of whatever it is that congressmen are dreaming up.
The experiences of past amnesty and guestworker programs, which we have a good deal of, and there's been a lot of study of the costs of not just managing such a program, but the cost to the government of legalizing or admitting large numbers of guestworkers and the economic rationale for this sort of thing. To assess these questions and examine whether these things are -- these things that everybody knows are true, really are true, we wanted to put a panel together of people who've had a good deal of experience, both with the enforcement and administration sides as well as studying the economics of immigration policy.
And what we'll do is we'll start over my left. Everybody will have give a presentation, hopefully relatively concise, and then, we'll have some discussion with the audience.
I'll introduce everybody now. We'll start with Bill King. He's a long-time Border Patrol agent, retired now, but many years in the Border Patrol. Among other things, he was head of the Border Patrol Academy, and most relevant for this panel, he actually administered the 1986 amnesty program for the western part of the country -- California and Arizona, neighboring states -- which was the most, sort of the busiest part of the amnesty program.
Then, next to him is Michael Cutler. He's a fellow here at CIS, a 30-year veteran of the Immigration Service, and he was not in the Border Patrol side but in the immigration enforcement side of what used to be the INS -- a special agent -- and has a done a lot of the narcotics-related, national security-related, fraud-related activities and has an enormous body of experience in this issue. He's also a frequent guest on TV and radio and testifies before Congress.
To my right is Philip Martin, professor of agriculture and resource economics at University of California, Davis, and really is the top person in the country -- probably in the world -- on the mechanics and the impacts of guestworker programs here or abroad, and in that capacity was one of the members of the Commission on Agricultural Workers that looked at some of these very issues that Congress is going to be debating.
And finally, Steven Camarota, the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, who is one of the top people on the effects of immigration on the United States -- the fiscal effects, the economic effects of immigration policy in the United States.
So we'll start with Bill, move, go all the way through to Steve, and then, we'll take some Q & A. Bill.
MR. KING: Well, thank you, Mark. It's a pleasure to be here, and I want to thank you for allowing me to participate in today's program.
As a former chief patrol agent with the U.S. Border Patrol and then later as the western regional manager of the INS amnesty program back in 1986, I'm on record as being totally opposed to any form of amnesty for the illegal aliens currently in this country working, residing, whatever. As one who has had the opportunity firsthand to witness the monumental increase in illegal immigration over the last 49 years, I think it's -- I truly think it's time that the Congress and this administration find the strength of purpose to do what the American public has been calling for for decades now, and that is to secure our borders and to develop realistic interior enforcement programs.
As a planner, I was asked to provide my recollections of what it took to put the 1986 program on line, and to put it bluntly, I feel that the '86 amnesty was just one more bale of goods sold to the American public. It called for the amnesty of all these eligible aliens, but it also called for a guestworker -- I mean, an employer sanctions program -- and strong border enhancement, which never occurred. We took in 3.1 million applications for amnesty; 2.7 million of which were approved, but the improved border security enhancements never happened, nor did the interior enforcement. And 20 years later, they're still going.
But to fully implement the '86 amnesty program it was necessary for us since we had no outside help to locate, lease, furnish, and equip 115 temporary legalization offices across the nation, including another four regional processing facilities.
This was an enormous undertaking for INS at that time or period in our immigration history. We needed to find, really, 2,000 new employees to staff those offices. And while some did come from the internal transfers out of INS, most people who administered that program were either retired annuitants, such as myself, with a management background in INS, or off-the-street hires. We had to develop a training program for all of these people. We had to go to Washington and assist in the writing of the regulations governing the law. We had to develop massive outreach in media programs and hold a series of public conferences for educational purposes to conduct liaison with various city, county, state, and federal agencies, as well as interested civic, social, and religious organizations desiring to assist illegal aliens through this application process. This all had to be accomplished in 180 days by law.
And while the processing aspect and the logistical problems that were overcome to put it on line was a huge success, one of the most important facets of this entire program was totally neglected in that there was no enforcement component to detect and prosecute the fraud that occurred. It was massive fraud, and it was particularly prevalent in the farmworker program. There was a very high percentage of fraud and fraudulent applications submitted in that program, but it was rampant everywhere. We had document vendors selling fraudulent documents within sight of some of our legalization offices, and we had no one to arrest and prosecute those people.
And as a result of all that, far too many illegal aliens were granted legal permanent residence, and today they are either lawful permanent residents or citizens of this country. And this is something that should not be repeated historically in any new programs that may come down the line. The president's insistence that his proposed guestworker program is not an amnesty -- (chuckles) -- flies in the face of reality. Anyone who could possibly believe that guestworkers having six years of temporary residence in this country would be removed is dead wrong. These people, with their families, would be deeply involved in the happenings of our country. Their children would be U.S. citizens. Single workers who would be originally adopted into the program would undoubtedly be pursuing marriage with U.S. citizens. And there is just a whole number of questions that have to be addressed before anything like this occurs again.
I was interested before I came here in how other managers felt about these proposed amnesty programs, so I called and e-mailed a few that I know, and to a person they were right on track down the line. They were concerned about the number of people that would be applying for this program from abroad. They were concerned about the numbers of people in excess of those estimated to be here in this country. Saying that there are 11 (million) or 12 million illegal aliens in the United States is an understatement of -- (chuckles) -- of great magnitude. There are many people -- all experienced INS managers -- who feel . . . I've heard some say that there might be as many as 30 million people illegally in this country. There is no way of knowing. But you can bet if you hold an amnesty program for those illegals presently in this country, you can expect to see the estimate today at least double. There are a lot of people in this country that don't belong here.
But to quote one of them -- he was a high level official here in Washington -- he asked, how can we ever talk of internal security when we have millions of illegal aliens spread out over the entire continental United States? And how can we talk about border security when we have thousands crossing our borders every day undetected? How can we talk about legalization with the massive document fraud that permeates the illegal alien problem now? These are all excellent questions, but there are only a few of those that must be answered before any other programs could be considered.
And you know, I'll tell you, as an ordinary citizen, I'm sick and tired of hearing the politicians tell me on a daily basis almost that we are a nation that abides by the rule of law when, in fact, there are easily 11 million examples in this country today to prove that we're not. We should have been taking care of these people -- prosecuting them, removing them -- years ago. We should have been securing the borders and having a very strong interior enforcement program.
But to get to the McCain and Kennedy bill or the president's guestworker program, the logistics involved in implementing a program of that sort just stagger the imagination. What we went through with the '86 program would be minuscule in size compared to what we would have to prepare for with today's alien population. And the idea of soliciting guestworker applications from abroad, it doesn't make any sense. With all these millions of people that we have here today, I think we should probably start with them, although frankly, I'd prefer it if -- it'll never happen, but it would be great if all these people were required to go back to their sending countries and make their applications from abroad.
Briefly, an amnesty program of the sizes proposed today are not workable. I doubt that there are enough employees in the entire Department of Homeland Security to process the numbers of people that would be considered eligible. The only way as far as I am concerned that it could be made to work is with that old rubber stamp that's been used in the past. Many people have been pushed through programs simply because we don't have the wherewithal or the resources to do the background checks on anything else that goes into the program. So with that, I'll stop and turn it over to Michael Cutler.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Bill.
MR. CUTLER: (Read Mr. Cutler's prepared remarks) Sure. Good afternoon, everybody. I'm happy to join you today, and I have to agree with much of what Bill had to say today.
I spent 30 years with the INS, enforcing a whole broad spectrum of laws that fall under the purview of what was the INS; now it's a part of ICE. The problem is that immigration enforcement has never been seriously attempted by our country. The folks who call themselves pro-immigrant are really people who favor open borders, and they say, well, we've tried enforcement and it doesn't work. And I'm here to tell you that what we've tried is to provide a very poor illusion of attempting enforcement, and that's what doesn't work. The immigration laws are not inherently less enforceable than the other laws, but it requires manpower, it requires a strategy, and it requires a commitment from our politicians.
But if you look at the successes that our military has had, the reason that they are so successful, the reason that our military is virtually unstoppable is because they have learned how to coordinate a variety of elements into a uniformed, fighting force that works in coordination. Immigration has always been fragmented with no overarching strategy.
This past May, I testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, and I was astounded to hear a gentleman from the Office of the Inspector General state that up until that day, there was still no strategy where our immigration law enforcement was concerned. No strategy, nearly four years after the worst terrorist attack ever committed in our country.
I've made the point before Congress; I'll make the point today that a country without secure borders can no more stand than can a house without walls. But we can't simply secure our nation's borders at the border. We need to back up immigration enforcement at the borders with meaningful interior enforcement strategies.
During the last presidential campaign, President Bush made the point that he was the governor at one point of a border state, so therefore, he really understood illegal immigration. Nothing could be closer to being wrong.
Any state that has an international airport or a seaport is as much a border state as any state that's to be found along the northern or southern borders of the United States. And when illegal aliens run the borders, they don't generally set up a tent and hang out around the border; they head for the interior of the United States. And they come here for the most part seeking employment.
So we hear the president say he wants to match willing workers with willing employers. Goodness gracious. That's precisely what has been driving millions of people across our borders in the first place. Basically, what has been happening is we have sent out an invitation to the world, "Come one, come all. The weather's fine. Let the games begin." We can't deal with the problem that we're dealing with now. We don't have the numbers of employees, as Bill pointed out.
I'm a New Yorker. New York was hammered by 9/11, as we all know, as was Washington. And in New York, we have been found to be the safest big city based on the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, and the reason that we're so safe is that notwithstanding the fact that we have over eight million residents in New York City, we have 37,000 cops. We have a multiple of that number in terms of illegal aliens scattered across a third of the North American continent, and we have about 2,500 special agents who are supposed to enforce the laws. As of late, they're not even offering Spanish language training to the agents going through the academy. When I went, it was a requirement.
They are providing many -- apparently, according to some bills -- to do document training, to be able to have our inspectors know when someone offers them a phony document. That training isn't being offered to the special agents. Right now, almost 80 or 85 percent of the field offices are headed up legacy Customs bosses who have no experience with immigration law enforcement and no inclination to enforce the immigration laws.
And if you look at the backlogs, I always think of that old episode of "I Love Lucy," where she was stuck in the bonbon factory -- (laughter) -- and that's where these beleaguered bureaucrats are today. It's Lucy on the bonbon factory, but you can't stick paperwork down your clothing or try to eat it, as she did with the bonbons. (Laughter.)
The faster the production line moves, the less accuracy we get, and the more we are at risk. We're fighting a war on terror, folks. There's a lot of emphasis being placed on the border, but what's even more frightening than people running across our border in the dead of night that we're not aware of are people who can secure official identity documents by our own government.
You know, I've always made the point that the only thing worse than no security is false security. I was on with Lou Dobbs not long ago, and poor Lou -- his head was spinning -- and he startled me because he showed me a video clip of the vice president making a statement. He said that there are millions of undocumented aliens in the United States. We don't know who they are, where they are, or what they're up to. And the vice president's solution was a guestworker program. You can't make this stuff up.
At the rate we're going, we may as well declare anybody born on the planet Earth to be a United States citizen and turn the immigration authorities into the "Men in Black" . . . so if it doesn't land in a flying saucer, we won't have to deal with it. But we have to deal with it because national security depends on it; our economy depends on it, the criminal justice system depends on it. Health and hospitals are in a state of bankruptcy in many places; the educational system is in a state of shambles. And I'm not trying to scapegoat illegal aliens. But I also want to make it clear that we're talking about illegal aliens, not lawful immigrants.
Very often we find ourselves caught up in a game of semantics, of words. The president talks about the need to honor immigrants. Well, I would certainly hope that we would honor immigrants. My mother, may she rest in peace, was an immigrant, as were my dad's parents. We are indeed a nation of immigrants. But we're a nation of law-abiding citizens. And to blend the description -- or to blur the distinction between legal immigrant and illegal alien is an outrage.
Earlier this week, John McCain came to New York touting this program that he wants. And now I guess he's taken things -- or as Emeril Lagasse would say, he's kicked it up a notch -- because they had a program on to advocate all sorts of benefits for folks who are illegally in the United States, and the title of the program was, "We Are America." So now we're apparently blurring the distinction between what it is to be a United States citizen and what it is to be an illegal alien.
I think that we have to understand the reality. We're going to wind up, if we're foolish enough as a nation to enact this program, we will wind up with many people showing up at immigration offices with no identity documents. That's why they are, after all, undocumented aliens. And let's think of that word -- they'll walk in, provide a false name, and walk out with an official document in any name they give.
I will assure you, if you look at what happened at the 9/11 Commission studies and the fact I provided testimony to the 9/11 Commission as well, you're going to have terrorists who will come into those offices, provide false names because they know that their true name is on no-fly and other watch lists . . . we will foolishly, under the crush of the paperwork, give them official identity documents in any name that they provide. And the day after we do that, we can shred all of our no-fly lists.
Their goal is to hide in plain sight. Somebody once made the point that an effective spy is somebody who couldn't attract the attention of a waitress at a greasy spoon diner. The easiest way to keep a low profile is to become a resident of the United States, or even better yet, a United States citizen.
And I don't know if you know this, but when we naturalize aliens and they become citizens, on the day of naturalization, they can take any name they want. Incredibly, their U.S. passports only reflect the name under which they're naturalized. I've raised this issue at congressional hearings. To my knowledge, this has not changed.
We're helping the bad guys put themselves into their own witness protection program, and we know that in order to attack us, the terrorists needed to travel often and extensively, and a U.S. passport under an assumed identity would be the biggest gift we could give them, and the biggest nightmare we could give ourselves, because they would be able to travel freely not only across our borders but across the borders of so many other countries. And when the president says that we need a guestworker program so that the Border Patrol and law enforcement can focus on the bad guys and not have to deal with the people who are simply coming here looking for employment, I would pose a question: what does a terrorist do the day before an attack? I'll tell you what he does. He goes back to that greasy spoon diner where he's been washing dishes, he works on an ice cream truck, he drives a taxicab, he attends classes at a university, he continues hiding in plain sight until the day that he does his dirty deeds against us. He's hiding in plain sight.
And I want to make certain that our government doesn't aid and abet those folks.
Final point, because I know I'm running out of time.
Each one of the guestworker provisions that I have seen requires an alien to demonstrate that he's been in the United States prior to a certain cut-off date. We will be as incapable of determining when they got here as who they are. And I assure you that if we implement this program, it will take years to get the paperwork cleared out, and during those years, many other aliens will be coming into this country in droves because there is no door we can shut. We still even have a visa waiver program for 26 countries. We will be inundated by people from the four corners of the earth seeking to participate in this giveaway program. It will imperil our survival as a nation. It will imperil national security. And it makes no sense. And I really hope that our politicians wake up in time to stop this madness.
Thank you for your time.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Mike.
The stories of how the government has dealt with this issue in the past remind me of another Will Rogers joke. He said once, "I don't make jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts." From the people who actually work for the government, we're now going to move to the scholars.
MR. MARTIN: Well thank you very much. I want to make three points in the next few minutes. We're going to talk now not what has happened, we're going to talk about agriculture, so one specific sector.
The first is that most farm work in the United States is done by U.S. citizens and their families; it's done by white U.S. citizens and their families. Most farm work is done by farmers and their families, and they happen to be white. So the first thing we'll do is explore who does the farm work.
The second is that the United States once had a bracero program. It ended in 1964 in the middle of the civil rights movement. The takeaway lesson from the ending of the program is that the people who were closest to the program were in the worst position to predict what actually happened. The prediction of farmers, of processors, and everyone else was that the industry most dependent on bracero workers processing tomatoes would either shrink in the United States and disappear or move to Mexico, whatever. We now produce five times more tomatoes at about half the cost than we did. It's not that they were -- you know, it's hard to predict the future, and the people making the predictions were wrong.
The third is, the third point is, regardless of what we do in terms of an agricultural guestworker program, the average consumer won't notice it. And I'll run through the numbers. But the thing to ask yourself is, are you typical or not? The average consumer unit -- we don't have "families" anymore, we have "consumer units" (laughter). The average consumer unit in the United States is two-and-a-half people, 1.9 cars, and spends $7 a week on fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, of course, the $7 you spend at Safeway on fresh fruits and vegetables do not all go to farmers. In fact, only about . . . even though those strawberries are picked right into the little plastic containers, farmers only get about 18 cents on the dollar. So they get about 20 percent of the retail price of fresh fruits and vegetables. And, of course, farmers don't give all that money to farm workers; they give about a third of their revenue to farm workers. So therefore, on a one-dollar head of lettuce, the farmer is getting about 17, 18 cents; the worker is getting about 6 cents. So therefore, when you think about what's going to happen to the cost of food, I mean keep in mind, if wages were zero, you would save 6 cents on a head of lettuce. So regardless of what happens, you don't eat enough lettuce to really get rich because wages are low. I mean, the reason we have low food costs is because we have high incomes and very productive land, not because wages are low.
So we'll walk through those three things in a little more detail. But the three takeaway messages are: most farm work is done by white U.S. citizens; secondly, there are adjustments that are very hard to predict; and thirdly, whatever happens, it's not going to affect the average American. You just don't eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables, according to our government data.
So the first thing to keep in mind is agriculture is a small part of a big economy. Farm sales are a little over $200 billion a year. The U.S. GDP is about $12 trillion. So it's a little under 2 percent. Most of agriculture does not rely on hired workers. Most of agriculture is grains, cattle, livestock, et cetera. The place where hired farmer workers is concentrated are in fruits, vegetables, and greenhouse and nursery crops. They're about 20 percent of U.S. agricultural sales. And we know that dependence on hired workers varies by very well known parameters -- big employers producing fruits and vegetables and these greenhouse specialties primarily in Western states and Florida. What has changed is that those are the states that have traditionally hired immigrants. There are now -- there's been -- the last 15 years have seen a spread of immigrants. So among the hired farm workers who do about a third of U.S. farm work, about 80 percent are immigrants -- there are still U.S. citizens who do farm work for wages -- and of those immigrants, roughly half are considered unauthorized.
So the first takeaway point is that hired workers are important to agriculture, but most farm work is not done by hired farm workers. And since U.S. farmers tend to be -- the average age of U.S. farmers is in the low 60s, they tend to be white, they tend to be male, and those are the people who do most of the hours of farm work.
Now, what happens in agriculture and the reason immigration is so important is because we think that there are about 2.5 million people employed for wages on U.S. farms sometime during a typical year. So on the peak day in September, there might be about 1.5 million people employed. But of course some day in January there's only half a million people employed. And it's not always the same people. So when you add them all up, that's about 2.5 million individuals employed sometime during the year. But farm work is a job, not a career. And as best we know, about 10 percent of the people who are hired workers -- that is, you did at least one day of work for wages during the year -- about 10 percent leave every year. So if you have a stable industry -- and it's been pretty stable -- about 2.5 million people, and 10 percent leave, that means every year you want a new 250,000.
So that's the farm worker dilemma. The new entrants are born abroad. The farm workers of tomorrow are growing up today somewhere outside the United States. New entrants are almost exclusively foreign born. And the issue is, how are people going to get access to those foreign workers? That's, in a sense, what the guestworker debate is all about.
So one option, if course, is to reduce access. And that's the second point. That's what was done in 1964. And what happened during the so-called bracero program, from 1942 to '64, is that Mexican workers arrived, worked seasonally, and were to return.
And the thing to keep in mind is that there were almost 5 million admissions of Mexican workers over those 22 years. Each time -- if the same person came back twice -- that counts twice.
There were about 5-1/2 million apprehensions during that same 22- year period, and same persons apprehended twice count twice.
But if we just count numbers, there are actually more apprehensions than there were admissions of legal guestworkers. So one of things that people often overlook is that there is unauthorized migration alongside legal guestworkers.
But at the end of the program, toward the end of the program, the Department of Labor started enforcing the standards. The program shrank.
And the commodity that really was in the spotlight in the early 1960s was so-called processing tomatoes, not the tomatoes you buy at the store but the tomatoes you buy in bottles of ketchup and salsa and stuff. About 85 percent of the workers were braceros, and they picked the tomatoes in lugs that weighed roughly 60 pounds. And you put the lugs together. You took them to a factory, where they were steamed and then turned into ketchup and all the tomato products.
And of course the theory was that . . . ending the program would end the industry. And it was a fairly important industry in parts of California. And there was lots of testimony in Congress about why the program has to be continued, because there's no other way to get the work done.
For better or worse, the program ended. And I think the important thing to take away is how fast the industry changed: in the early 1960s, 85 percent [were] braceros picking the tomatoes. By 1970, the industry had completely mechanized and roughly doubled in size. It's now since increased in size.
What happened? Well, they made a tomato that was not round but instead oblong. They made a machine to harvest and sort them. And the two together wound up lowering costs.
One small point to make is that government played an enormously important role, because it's -- if I'm a farmer, I either have to deliver tomatoes in 60-pound lugs or in 25-pound trucks. And for any of you in business, you know that there's always a fight between a producer and the next level up the chain as to what the price should be. Farmers were paid by weight. Therefore, they had an incentive to put dirt clods and rocks in. Processors have an incentive to say, "Those are bad tomatoes," and lower the price.
What was the role of government? Government took a random sample of these big 25-ton trucks and whatever came out of the sample is what was paid. That ended the problem. But for 60 pounds of tomatoes -- they're with about 2 cents a pound -- I lose $1.20. If it's 25 tons, I'm losing several thousand dollars. That was a key role that government played in getting that industry to make a transition. There's probably room for government to play a role like that again as industries adjust.
Third and last point is, what would happen to the average consumer? If there were to be a change, there would not be an overnight of 'today workers, tomorrow no workers.' It's really a question of, in the case of agriculture, attrition out of the labor force. It's a process that, as I have suggested, is roughly 10 percent a year.
The hardest thing to keep in mind when we talk casually about food and spending is that the average American consumer unit spends more on alcohol than they do on fresh fruits and vegetables. (Soft laughter.) Maybe they shouldn't, but that's what they do.
So we spend about $7.50 dollars a week on alcohol and we spend our $7 a week on fresh fruits and vegetables. And as I suggested, on a typical $1 pound of apples, or $1 head of lettuce, the farmer is getting a little under 20 cents. The farm worker is getting about 19 -- 18 [percent], sorry -- the farm worker is getting about 6 or 7 cents. So remember, farmers get about a fifth, workers get about a third. That's one-fifteenth. And that's why the farm labor share is a relatively small part of the retail price.
The question is, what would happen if the supply were reduced and the wages rose? Okay, what happened in the tomato story was a mechanization story. It won't always be that. Sometimes there will be shifting production abroad. That could happen in a commodity like strawberries. Sometimes there will be mechanization story. That's probably peaches. That'll happen in a lot of other crops.
But the take-away message is, it really won't matter much to the average family, because you don't spend very much on those commodities. Maybe you should, but you don't.
And the way that I used the example was, what happened after the bracero program ended? Well, for those of you who remember, there was a small union named the United Farm Workers Union. And in 1966, they got a 40 percent, one-year wage increase -- 40 percent in one year, in part because of a boycott but also in part because there were not braceros available. Suppose we were to have a 40-percent wage increase again. What would happen? Well, if those wages were totally passed through -- that is, if there were no labor-saving changes -- then that roughly 6-cent- cost of a pound of apples would rise to about 7-1/2 cents. And for better or worse, you really don't buy that many apples. And for the average family, you would spend about $10 a year more on all fresh fruits and vegetables.
So the bottom line is, if history were to repeat itself, the increase in the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables for an average family would be about $10 a year, or about the price of a movie ticket.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Phil.
Anybody who's in favor of a guestworker program, I'll give you 10 bucks if you'll change your mind -- (laughter) -- and make up the difference in the fruit and vegetable cost.
MR. CAMAROTA: Thank you, Mark.
I would like to shift gears and now talk about another issue that obviously comes up a lot in this debate in various ways, the fiscal cost; that is, the cost to taxpayers. I've done a fair amount of research on that, and let me tell you what I and other people have found in that area.
Now based on U.S. Census Bureau data, we estimate, just looking at the federal government, that illegal immigrant households use about $10 billion more in services than they pay in taxes each year, though that's because they're paying about 16 billion (dollars) in taxes -- about half of illegals are paid on the books -- and we estimate 26 billion (dollars) in costs, roughly a $10 billion net deficit, for just the federal government. The costs at the state and local level, which we have not estimated, and it's much tougher to get estimates for, would likely be bigger.
Now among the largest costs, for those who are interested, are things like Medicaid, about 2.5 billion (dollars); treatment for the uninsured, 2.2 billion (dollars); food assistance programs -- food assistance welfare programs tend to be large, about 1.9 billion (dollars); the federal prison system is large . . . very tiny expenditures on cash assistance welfare programs. Illegals don't get what we now call TANF, what we used to call AFDC. There are a few who seem to show up in the data.
Food stamps -- not so much. California seems to have a problem with fraud in its food stamps program, but other than California, not too much in food stamps. A lot in a program called WIC -- Women, Infants and Children.
A lot in free school lunches, that sort of thing.
Now I think maybe perhaps most important for this discussion, we found that if illegal aliens were legalized and began to pay taxes and use services like legal immigrants with the same education levels, the estimated annual fiscal cost would roughly triple, to about $29 billion a year.
Now why is this the case? Why do the costs go up if you legalize illegal aliens?
Well, all researchers agree, including the Urban Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center and so forth, that illegal aliens are overwhelmingly unskilled. I estimate that about 60 percent-plus of illegals haven't completed high school. Another 20 percent have only a high school degree, or more like 25 percent. So you're looking at about 80, 85 percent have no education beyond high school.
So the primary reason they create a fiscal deficit is their low levels of education and resulting low tax payments in the modern American economy. And it's not their legal status or an unwillingness to work. Most illegal aliens work.
Giving illegal aliens legal status increases costs because illegals would still be largely unskilled, and thus their tax payments would continue to be very modest. But once legalized, they would be able to use government services. We've estimated that if we legalized illegal aliens, tax revenue per household would rise about 77 percent, partly because the other half of illegals would now be paid on the books and partly because we expect income to go up significantly for the illegals.
But unfortunately, we also estimate, given what legal unskilled immigrants -- or legal immigrants, I should say, with the same education levels -- we estimate that costs would rise 118 percent. So in other words, if we legalize them, tax revenue goes up 77 percent, but unfortunately, costs goe up 118 percent.
Now costs rise avoidably with amnesty, again because of the education level of the immigrants. And legal status would now allow them to use a lot of programs. And again, it's not cash welfare.
To understand why the costs rise, it's helpful to consider a program like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Based on some internal numbers the government has done and our estimates from the Census data, this program, the Earned Income Tax Credit -- which pays cash assistance to low-income workers, [and] you have to work to get it -- illegals right now account for just 1.5 percent of the costs of that program.
But if we legalize them, and they began to use the program like legal immigrants with the same level of education, we estimate that the costs would roughly go up ten-old, because now they would be able to use it. You can' get it if you have a bogus Social Security number.
Now remember, this dramatic rise in cost is not due to laziness on the part of immigrants, legal immigrants or illegal aliens. In fact, only those who work get the credit. The dramatic rise in costs simply reflects the low educational attainment of illegals --60 percent-plus, no high school; another 25 percent, high school only.
To the extent that policymakers have considered the fiscal costs of illegal immigration, they have generally tried to reduce the costs while allowing illegal aliens to stay in some way or another. But this strategy has not been effective, because the average illegal alien already receives less than half as much in services from the federal government as do other tax . . . other households anyway.
Moreover, many of the costs associated with illegal immigration -- and this would be true under a guestworker program or any other legalization [program] -- are programs that they get on behalf of their U.S.- born children. And those children have welfare and other eligibility, like any other American citizen. So efforts to bar legal immigrants or illegal aliens from welfare and other means-tested programs are largely ineffective, because the child gets the benefit.
The cash assistance programs are small anyway. It's really things more like the food assistance program, WIC, food stamps, free school lunch, and the medical assistance programs, Medicaid -- those programs dwarf the cash assistance programs.
So we really have two options. Either we begin to enforce the law and significantly reduce the number of illegal aliens in the country, or we accept the costs they create. There's no middle ground here.
Now of course employers don't see those costs because they're diffuse. They're borne by everyone. But nonetheless, the costs are very real.
Now if you're wondering about our estimates, let me talk to you about the National Research Council. They did estimates in '97, looking at the fiscal impacts of immigrants overall. They found that an immigrant, in the course of his lifetime, who lacks a high school education, will use $89,000 more in services than he pays in taxes. That's an immigrant without a high school education. And remember, 60 percent of the illegals fall in that category.
An immigrant with only a high education uses $31,000 more in the course of his lifetime than he pays in services.
And these costs actually do not include the children. They were just trying to look at the original immigrant. Now I should point out that the immigrant who has a college education -- he pays more than $100,000 -- pays 100,000 (dollars) more in taxes than he used in services during the course of his lifetime. The problem here is educational attainment.
Interestingly, just to give you another example, the Inspector General has actually done a detailed analysis of tax returns filed by illegal aliens. They give out about $10 billion in returns a year to people they're 99 percent sure are illegal aliens. It turns out practically none of them have any tax liability. Again, that situation arises because given the education level of illegal immigrants, they're just not going to pay any taxes.
Or maybe it helps to think this way. Our tax system and our means-tested programs are designed specifically to help whom, by design? Low-income workers with children. Well, what are illegal aliens overwhelmingly? Low-income workers with children.
As a consequence, not legalizing them doesn't fix that basic fact. But again it must be emphasized that when we look at immigrants in general and we look at their high use of certain public services, this is not a moral defect, necessarily, in any way of the immigrants. It reflects the reality of the American economy and the existence of a well-developed welfare state. And what we have here is an immigration flow that's largely unskilled and simply incompatible with the reality of modern America.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve.
What Steve was talking about reminds me of the image -- he kind of hates when I do this kind of thing. But it reminds me [that] people seem to imagine that giving legal status to illegal aliens is going to solve the problem. It's kind of like the Wizard of Oz giving the scarecrow that diploma at the end of the movie, where somehow he suddenly turns into a PhD. It just doesn't work that way, and so you end up with legally present, low-skilled workers instead of illegally present low-skilled workers.
Well, anyway, let me take some questions, if anybody's interested. I'm sure nobody has anything that -- there's nothing controversial here or anything of interest to anybody. But if anybody is interested, I'd love if you have a question, if you could identify yourself, please.
Q: Yeah. Bob Schoemaker --
MR. KRIKORIAN: And speak up too.
Q: I'm sorry. Bob Schoemaker with the American Council for Immigration Reform.
I mean, a lot of what has been said here depends a lot on how many people are actually here. And I know that 12 million is the kind of figure that everybody's throwing out. But I'm kind of -- I think that there are easily twice that many. I mean, there's just so much anecdotal evidence out there. You hear so much from people all over this country, "My God! Where did they all come from?" And we're still sticking with this 12 million figure.
MR.KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Bob. Well, Steve has given some thought to that.
Go ahead, Steve.
MR. CAMAROTA: I come down on the side of the debate more like 12 million. I mean, I can run through the reasons why, but you take the Census data. You try to figure out how many illegal aliens are in that data, and this is what Urban Institute and Pew and what I do and what the INS did and what the Census Bureau does. And we find maybe right now maybe 11 million in the Census data.
So the question is, how many is the Census Bureau missing? The problem is if we were missing a whole another 11 million, the number of births in the United States, which are pretty well recorded, would have to be a lot bigger. School enrollment figures match pretty closely with the Census stuff. So all I'm saying is, is it possible that the number's 13 [million]? Yes. You're darn right. It is possible. Fourteen seems high to me, but 20 million or 22 million doesn't seem that likely to me, given the administrative data, but, admittedly, it's imperfect.
Maybe they're all single men who don't have children, and they're not increasing school enrollment in any way, and they're not showing up in some other . . . we also have death data, too. It doesn't seem to show it, but people go home to die. It's a young population. The death data's a little . . . and the bottom line is, does it really matter? Does anyone feel a lot better saying, "Well, thank goodness we only have 12 million illegal aliens rather than 20?" I think the problem is -- really the scope of the problem is roughly the same either way, and I don't think we need a debate exactly about that size, but anyway.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else?
Q: Bob Samuelson, Newsweek. This is for Dr. Martin.
I know that you concentrate on agriculture, but I'm wondering whether or not you have thought about and had comments on the argument that was made by business groups that we have a labor shortage in this country and that we need more immigration -- legal or illegal -- and if we don't get it, bad economic things will happen.
MR. MARTIN: That's a good question. I mean, you know, if we have a market economy, the way we bring supply and demand into balance is by having prices adjust. So if the weather destroys the peaches, there are fewer peaches, the price of peaches go up, and some people switch to apples and low and behold the peach market clears.
The labor market also works, but the labor market's a little different. I mean, there can be lags. You have to train people. It's possible that people's social mores change, and they find some jobs less attractive than others. If we're thinking of -- so at the high end of the labor market, the argument always is if you have a sudden ramp up in demand, it can take time to train more nurses or IT or whatever, and that's a separate kind of issue about how you do that.
But at the low end of the labor market, if I am, let's say, a raisin farmer in Fresno, the largest labor-intensive activity in North America -- 50,000 people for six weeks. If I say that there are not people willing to do -- picking raisins and laying them in the sun to dry, picking grapes and laying them into the sun to dry into raisins, that's right; there aren't. But this country had 90 percent of its people in agriculture 200 years ago at the first census. We've now got well under 2 percent. The way in which we make changes when there is a labor shortage or a labor need is the flexibility, on the demand side of the market, not the supply side. In other words, you know, when wages evolve, attitudes change, we figure out some way to get the work done in a different manner. Then employer groups will say, "Well, tell me exactly how that's going to happen." Well, some of the employers won't survive the adjustment. I mean, I can tell you that there are raisin growers who will not survive in an adjustment to higher wages. But it's -- we know the general direction of change. The flexibility is on the demand side of the market, not the supply side.
And I guess, let me just say, the way I try to answer this question is when I was a teenager, one of the common jobs that teenage boys had was to work at a gas station, pumping the gas and cleaning the windshields. Now, suppose you were the head of the Gas Station Operators of America back in 1970, and you said there's a baby bust generation coming. Who's going to run out there and fill the cars with gas? You would have predicted an enormous labor shortage because there were fewer teenage kids coming along.
Well, we all know what's happened. There has been . . . we have closed about a third of all gas stations in the U.S. We have far fewer than we used to have, and people do their own [gas pumping]. It's not easy to point to the trajectory of change for every particular industry, but I think the take-away message is: You know there is going to be a change, and if wages rise, the general direction of change is demand shrinks, supply increases. Exactly how the two blades of the scissors come together and exactly where they do is something that gets worked out in practice. It's not an easy process for particular people, but that's the way it's happened for quite a long time, and that's the way I expect it to happen again.
MR. CAMAROTA: If I could jump in real quick, I think Phil's answer's right, but there does seem to be in America a huge supply of unutilized labor, and that problem has gotten a lot worse. Just in the last five years, about 2 million workers, native- born workers with a high school degree or less, seemingly have left the labor market. They're idle. They're not in school. They're not moms taking care of little kids. We don't know what's going on. That's a huge problem.
Or maybe more specifically, unemployment among high school dropouts is like 14 percent in the United States. There are 800,000 people, in the Census data collected in 2005, who report that they're adults 18 to 64. They have previously worked in construction, and now they're unemployed. Over that same time period, about 600,000 immigrants came in. Now, there's about 400,000 people who say they're in the building, cleaning, and maintenance trades who are adult natives who are unemployed. They say they don't have a job, they're looking for a job, and the last thing that they used to do was building and cleaning, and we've taken in about 400,000 immigrants.
It would be a mistake to assume that there is a one-for-one trade between every job taken by an immigrant and every job lost by a native. On the other hand, it would also be a mistake to assume that you can't dramatically increase the supply of unskilled workers in this way or less skilled workers without any impact on natives, and this problem of unemployment and unskilled natives leaving the workforce is there as well.
So it does seem to me that there is a fair amount of labor that could also, if properly paid, if offered decent wages and benefits, could take up some significant share of this slack.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve.
Q: Greg Simmons, FoxNews.com.
I was wondering if any of you guys on the panel could for me just describe or characterize the strength of the role of foreign governments in the amnesty debate.
MR. CUTLER: Yeah. Hi, Greg.
Look, we know that Vicente Fox from Mexico has engaged in a massive lobbying program. I've seen articles where the presidents of various South American countries are also doing the same thing. I know that the Indian government is complaining that there aren't enough H-1B visas being made available for people to come to our country in the high tech fields.
America provides an awful lot of money to a lot of foreign governments. Mexico, it was estimated, gets something like $20 billion a year in remittances, and that's money that's visible. There's also lots of money that moves across the border -- smuggled because of criminal activity.
So certainly, you know, if you think back to when we were kids, you'd learn that from Colombia, we get coffee. Well, lately from Mexico, we get people. And what we're getting are quite a few Mexican nationals who work in the United States and send their money home. So certainly these countries are highly motivated to have their folks enter our country unimpeded, and I think it's a major issue.
MR. KRIKORIAN: I got to say, though -- often you hear outrage at the Mexican government or other governments. And, you know, I had a boss once who said, "You teach people how to treat you." And the fact is that we have taught Mexico and other countries overseas that it's okay for them to interfere in our domestic policymaking. In fact, we've made it quite clear in a sense, really, before 9/11 . . . the White House sort of farmed out immigration policy to the Mexican Foreign Ministry.
So the problem here is not really Vicente Fox. He's just doing . . . he's pursuing his national interest in a way that's appropriate for the president of a foreign country. The problem is that our State Department and our federal government, in general, isn't pushing back in a very polite and constructive way and saying, "Mind your own business."
MR. KRIKORIAN: No, he had his -- you'll be next.
Yes, sir, in the back?
Q: I'm Gabriel Broder (sp) with Sunshine Press.
You seem to be directing your concerns to the American public rather than the Congress, but in hopes that the public will petition politicians, particularly in Congress, to act on those concerns. Given that members of Congress get most of their money not from the public but from the businesses that need the cheap labor and given that most of those businesses get their money from the public, why aren't you addressing or directing your efforts at businesses instead of the politicians?
MR. CUTLER: Let me just . . . real quick -- I've testified at nine congressional hearings. I'll be going back for more hearings. But the whole thing with illegal immigration is they want the votes and the campaign contributions. That's the politicians. So it's important that both sides of that equation be approached, but we do testify before Congress when we have that opportunity as well.
Q: But I'm asking, why aren't you doing anything about the businesses, that are a lot more responsive to the American consumer than the politicians are?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, I mean a couple of things.
We're a think tank, not an activist group, and that's a question, I think, for somebody else. But the fact is that businesses need to operate within the parameters that policy sets. That's really the issue. The problem's not . . . I mean, there are crooked businessmen, but generally speaking, whether they're farmers or other people, they're out making rational decisions within the set of -- within the policy parameters that Congress has set. Changing that is what's important, then businesses will respond to a different set of incentives. It's the incentives that matter.
It's not that there's millions of businessmen across the country rubbing their hands together deciding how they're going to screw up the United States.
Yes, sir. You had your hand up next.
Q: Yeah. My question is --
MR. KRIKORIAN: Where were you from?
Q: Oh, Alex Meneses, Hispanic Link.
What type of solutions would you suggest to the problem of the undocumented population in the U.S.? You've been saying all day that a guestworker program is not the best solution. So do you ascribe to the enforcement only approach that's in the Sensenbrenner bill, or what other solutions could there be for these problems?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let me at least start that.
There are a lot of specifics, but the question is, what is the strategy? And the way it's presented, specifically in dealing with the existing illegal population, is that there's some kind of forced choice we have to make between deporting everybody tomorrow, which we couldn't do even if we wanted to. We only deported last year 40,000 people from within the United States. That's it. Or, since that can't work, we have to legalize them all, that somehow it's presented as though those are the only choices. In fact, neither one of those can work.
And the only thing that can work is a middle way, which is attrition -- enforcement of the immigration law so that we have an annual decrease in the total illegal population instead of a continual, annual increase; the point of which is after 8 or 10 years, you revisit the situation and then decide: are there some long-term illegals remaining that you might want to amnesty, and you do it honestly and you force them to allocute publicly to their crimes and then forgive them, or do you just live with the remaining population of illegals as a nuisance?
But the point is you can't have that debate until you've reasserted control over the problem.
There are all kinds of specific pieces of it, and I think we'd be happy to talk about it afterwards, but that's kind of the . . . and I'd have to say, that's as far as I can tell, the implicit strategy behind the House legislation as well.
Let's take -- do we have time for one more question or . .
MR. CAMAROTA: Maybe two?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, a couple more questions?
Q: John Bushnell is my name.
One of the things in most guest worker programs is an additional obligation (inaudible). In the '86 reform, the idea was we would put sanctions on employers who (inaudible). Nobody did that. It seems to me that one of the changes here is most guestworker proposals provide not a sanction, sort of an incentive that the employer needs to make formally, he has to apply in some sense to get the worker. He has to come out of the underground kind of, if that's where he is, and in order to this, presumably, he has to expose himself to the various provisions of labor law and so forth. Wouldn't this at least be a constructive partial step forward in bringing employers more into the process, and therefore subject to some enforcement rather than what we have now?
MR. CUTLER: All right. All we're going to tell you -- my number one concern is, again, we're going to be giving official I.D. to people that we don't really know who they are, which is dangerous for national security. But beyond that, we don't have enough people right now that could manage that kind of a program. So we've got to really approach it from the perspective of taking away the incentives for being here, not providing more incentives for people to come here to violate the law.
MR.KRIKORIAN: Well, I think part of your question was it would bring employers out of the shadows is what you're saying. Well, the problem is, of course, that half or more of illegals work on the books so that the employers employing them are actually not in any kind of shadows. They are simply using -- they're submitting the fake or stolen Social Security numbers.
So the problem is that employers that are in the shadows, that minority of -- that are employing the minority of illegal aliens, are probably also -- have locks on the fire doors and don't pay their taxes anyway. So I'm not really sure that that one thing is somehow going to persuade them to start complying with the law.
If we could have one more. Did you have a question, Bob? Yeah.
Q. Can I just follow up on this question about the existing population of illegals, either Mr. King or Mr. Krikorian. It seems to me that the dilemma's a little bit more acute than you suggested. Let's just suppose, for the sake of argument, that we shut down the illegal immigration, you really get tough on the border, and you couple that with very strict internal enforcement so that employers now are obligated to verify that somebody who wants employment is actually supposed to be here. And let's also assume there is no new guestworker program. Now, in your presentation, Mr. King, you suggested, I think quite rightly, that if you had a new guestworker program, it's unrealistic to think that these people are going to go home after six years, that they would have put down roots in the community, that many of them will have children, that it will be very difficult for them to go back personally. And I think the implication was that if they were forced back, you would begin to see stories in the newspapers about how John and Jane were seven and eight, that all their kids spoke perfect English, were being thrown back to some place in Mexico they'd never visited before. Well, that's exactly the problem with the existing illegals. A lot of those people do have roots in the community, they do have children, the kids are American, and they are American in more of the sense of citizenship; they are American because this is the only society they've known. Now if you couple that with strict enforcement, all of a sudden you don't just have attrition, a kind of occasional person being caught and going back, or somebody deciding they want to go back and spend the rest of their life with grandma and whatever, you now have a system that, if it's reasonably effective, is going to catch a lot of these people who have been here.
So my question is just the question that he had. Given the difficulties here, the dilemmas -- practical, political, ethical -- what do you do?
MR. KING: Can I -- can I answer that?
Your question is well taken. Given the generosity of the American people and in our political system, I don't think we'd ever find ourselves in a position to deport everyone, particularly those who have put down roots, that have American citizen children, equity, that kind of thing. There has to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere. But to me, the idea of strong border security, coupled with the employer sanctions program, would result in the self- deportation of many thousands of current workers in the population.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Steve?
MR. CAMAROTA: Oh, just so you know, here's what the demographers think, people like Bob Warren at the INS and so forth. About 150,000 illegal aliens, we think, go home on their own each year. So if you made it hard to get a job, if you made it hard to open a bank account, if you cut them off from more of the normal things of life and it made their life more difficult, you might get that number up to 2(00,000) or 300,000 a year.
We also give out green cards to about 150(,000) to 200,000 people a year who are here illegally. They marry an American, they win the lottery, their name comes up in the queue. So right now we have, if you will -- and about 40,000 get deported, if you want to know, 30(,000) to 40,000 get deported; and about 10(,000) to 20,000 die each year. It's a very large population. So you might have as many as a half a million people leaving the illegal population right now.
If you could get that up to a million or a million-and-a-half a year and, as you say, stop future illegal immigration, over the course of five or eight years you could get rid of most of the illegals. And then at that point you decide what to do with the rest, which is a very difficult decision, but at least we should be honest. We shouldn't say, well, we're going to turn them into guestworkers, even though we know none of them are going to go home. We should tell the American people, look, it's not temporary; we're giving them all green cards, and that's that -- if that's the debate we want to have.
But I do think we could probably get rid of two-thirds, three-fourths of illegals through enforcement, but the rest -- and that's not a trivial number -- is an issue that would be with us and we'd have to decide. And I think at that point we could consider giving them green cards. That's not an unreasonable -- it's not off the table, as far as I'm concerned. But it's certainly off the table to give them green cards or legal status out of the gate.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let me just finish up. The other point I wanted to make is that whatever we do would end up being phased in anyway, just realistically speaking. I mean, the House bill has a two-year timetable before employers are all required to verify even the new employees, and then four more years after that before they would have to verify existing employees. The point is not that that particular timetable is something that's, you know, set in stone, but the idea is, practically speaking, it's going to be new entrants -- I mean, not so much new entrants into the labor market, but also people changing jobs who are going to be the first people to be affected. So it's a process, not an event. And I mean, I think Steve's right that at some point we are going to have to make some hard decisions about what we're going to do. Those are decisions we can't even debate now because we don't have the mechanism to implement and enforce whatever decision we do make.
Let me . . . there probably . . . unfortunately they're going to throw us out of the room, I think, shortly, so we need to wrap it up. I'm going to be here. Maybe some of the other panelists will if you want to accost us afterwards.
I appreciate everybody coming. I don't have a Will Rogers joke to finish up with, but thanks again for coming. All of our publications are online at cis.org for those of you who are interested, and thanks again.
Michael Cutler's Prepared Remarks
Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, "When you come to the fork in the road, take it!"
America has, indeed come to a fork in the road where immigration is concerned. Our nation has finally come to the realization that it needs to deal with the illegal immigration crisis. This crisis is perhaps one of the most daunting challenges our nation has ever faced. It impacts all 50 states and affects everything from health care, the economy, the environment, education to criminal justice and national security. Too many politicians have seen the proverbial fork in the road and indeed, they want to take it! They want to be viewed as all things to all people. They want to go down each branch of the road, but, if we are to be really honest, they cannot do that. Many politicians, from both political parties, apparently believe that a guest worker amnesty program will enable them to provide the illusion of being tough on immigration while maintaining the status quo- an immigration policy that insures that the flow of illegal aliens will continue, providing a virtually inexhaustible supply of cheap and compliant labor that is easily exploited.
The time has come to face up to the reality that we cannot secure our nation against the onslaught of terrorists and criminals unless we secure our nation's borders and the immigration system, itself. A guest worker program has many pitfalls that will threaten our national security and create incredible challenges for virtually all aspects of our nation. Consider the following:
The guest worker program is indeed an amnesty. It will enable illegal aliens to remain in the United States and be gainfully employed. For most of the illegal aliens currently present in the United States, this is precisely why they ran our borders or otherwise violated our immigration laws. It has been said that you get only one opportunity to make a first impression. For aliens who seek to enter the United States or have already entered the United States, the way our nation enforces and administers the immigration laws provides a first impression as to how America views its own laws and also provides insight into our concept of justice. I am afraid that the dysfunctional immigration system, coupled with our nation's virtually invisible borders send a clear but dangerous message, In effect the message is simple, not only can you get away with violating our laws, we will gladly reward you for violating our laws and our borders. This would be a wrong and dangerous message under any circumstances but this message is of particular concern as our nation fights a war on terror against those who have entered, or are seeking to enter our nation to do our country and our people grievous harm.
Additionally, consider that the agencies charged with enforcing the immigration laws, whether at the borders (CBP) from within the interior of the United States (ICE) or administer the immigration benefits program, (USCIS) all have one major problem in common, they are over-worked, under funded and have far, far too few employees to deal with the critical missions that fall under their respective purviews. A guest worker program will do for those agencies what Hurricane Katrina did to the levies of Mississippi. Under the crush of the flood of humanity that undoubtedly will show up on the doorstep of USCIS offices around the country, should our nation be foolish enough to enact a guest worker program, it will be impossible to ascertain the true identities of the aliens seeking to participate in the program. It should be expected, if history is instructive, that terrorists will go to those offices, intermingling with millions of other aliens, provide false names and succeed in securing official guest worker identity documents in assumed identities, thereby enabling them to circumvent "No Fly" and other such watch lists enabling them to embed themselves in our nation and hide in plain sight. These documents will also make great "breeder documents" enabling the terrorists and criminals as well, to obtain a total set of identity documents such as driver's licenses, credit cards, Social Security cards and even library cards. If we do this, our nation may as well shred all watch lists, because on that tragic day, those lists will become truly worthless.
Furthermore, because of the huge numbers of applicants and the fact that illegal aliens virtually always use false names, making them as amorphous as puffs of smoke, it will be impossible to determine when these aliens truly entered the United States. Consider this implication carefully. Although most of the proposed guest worker programs require that the aliens who will be eligible to participate in the program will have had to entered the United States some time ago, there will be no way of accurately determining when these aliens actually did enter the United States. From my 30 years of experience with the former INS I can tell you with certainty, that a significant proportion of the aliens who will participate in this program have not yet entered the United States. They may not get here for years, but when they do, they will claim to have met the deadline and our government will be as incapable of determining the date that these illegal aliens entered the United States as they will be in determining their true identities. Our government will also be as unable to police this program as it is unable to enforce the immigration laws today, which is how we have wound up with so many millions of illegal aliens today. These temporary guest workers may also decide to become involved in a marriage, legitimate or sham, as a means to avoiding the requirement of leaving the United States when the "temporary" period is up. For all too many of these temporary workers, I fear that the temporary period of their time in the United States will be determined by their life expectancy. Furthermore, in 1986, when the first amnesty program for illegal aliens was implemented, it was originally estimated that there were some 1.5 million illegal aliens in the United States. When the program finally ended, there were more than 3.5 million illegal aliens who availed themselves of the opportunity to legalize their status in our country. I fear that this program will be seen by millions of desperate people throughout the world as an invitation to drop everything and head for the United States try to become a part of this program. Every week millions of lottery tickets are sold to people who know that their chances of buying a winning lottery t ticker are so miniscule as to be nearly impossible, yet they will sometimes drive into neighboring states to buy a ticket when the jackpot is great enough. For the virtually incalculable number of people throughout the world who live in utter squalor, the possibility of coming to the United States to improve their situation will act as an extremely powerful magnet that will draw them here. They will probably have already heard from friends and others that those who succeed in crossing into the United States will have virtually nothing to fear from an immigration system that has a reputation for utter incompetence. Immigration law enforcement has become a game of "hide and seek" where the illegal aliens hide and the government rarely seeks because of an extreme lack of resources and an even greater lack of political will.
Finally, I want to ask you a question. Does anyone know what a terrorist does two days before he or she launches a terrorist attack against a country? I will tell you- terrorists in an effort to stay below the radar, will go to the jobs they have had, whether it is driving an ice-cream truck, working in a used car business, driving a taxi cab or doing other such relatively menial job. Or they may attend a school that they have attended for a period of time, whether it is a university or a flight school. In short, they continue to hide in plain sight. Someone once described an effective spy as someone who wouldn't attract the attention of a waitress at a 'greasy spoon' diner. The same could be said of an effective terrorist. While the President is correct when he says that the great majority of illegal aliens are motivated to run our nation's borders in order to get a job, it is that seemingly innocuous job that can provide a highly effective "cover" for a terrorist who is intent on wreaking havoc on our nation and our citizens. Indeed, a previous study published by the Center for Immigration Studies that was conducted by Janis Kephart, former counsel to the 911 Commission, disclosed that nearly 2/3 of the terrorists who have been identified as operating within the United States from approximately 1990 until the attacks of 9/11 committed immigration benefit fraud in order to embed themselves in the United States.
Ultimately, how our nation deals with the crisis of illegal immigration will determine the very future of our nation and our citizens. These decisions are critical because of their wide-ranging implications and they are equally critical because once we go down that road marked "Guest Worker Program" there will be no turning back. This is, indeed, a perilous road, and I sincerely hope that our nation's leaders will be wise enough to take a different path.
Michael W. Cutler