Monday, January 28, 2013

Comprehensive Immigration Reform - Redux

As the illegal alien problem reaches crisis levels for a second time in less than thirty years  the national debate on how to deal with the millions of illegal aliens living and working in the United States is being advanced in earnest this month by the Obama Administration.

In 1986, the solution was “amnesty” otherwise known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act. In 2013, the same problem has reemerged in greater numbers and under the specter of terrorism, and the proposed solution is again “amnesty” by yet another moniker, namely, “Comprehensive Immigration Reform”.

The last amnesty actually took more than four years of serious effort for the Congress and the Administration to bang out the legislation which cleared the books for millions of persons illegally here. Negotiations, consultations, and compromise at every level of government, the private sector and community organizations during the four years were painful and embarrassing for all concerned, particularly the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Painful and embarrassing because the final product looked more like the problem than the solution.   Having served as Director of the program for the INS,  I am convinced that had the INS known just what “amnesty” would look like in the end,  it would have withdrawn its support for the proposal early on. 

Through the entire four-year process, what started out as a reasonable and fair solution was warped beyond recognition by business interests, politicians, and community and religious  groups. The proposed solution was grounded on the argument that, since the vast, vast majority of  illegal aliens come to the United States for jobs, that turning off the magnet of jobs would reduce the numbers who would come. Further, the method for doing so would be shifted to employers who would, under penalty of severe sanctions, be responsible for ensuring applicants for jobs were legally here. It all made sense, particularly to most employers who already had little interest in employing illegal aliens. To some liberal members of Congress and to many community organizations, who generally were soft on or advocates for illegal aliens, it seemed like a trade worth making. Worth making because they saw it as the goose that laid the golden egg during a time when the Administration was looking seriously at using strong law enforcement as the alternative. Besides, this was legislation in the making, and community groups and legislators knew that negotiations with an over eager Republican administration would be productive. Productive they were. In fact, negotiations turned the amnesty proposal on its end. First, from within the INS, the Executive Assistant to the Commissioner, a political appointee coordinating the effort, began a campaign at staff meetings to involve community organizations in the amnesty process. She argued that community organizations would be our allies in carrying out the amnesty processing, and thus neutralize the stigma of “jack booted immigration agents” dealing directly with the frightened aliens. Having gotten her foot in the door for the initial processing being taken over from the government by these “voluntary organizations,” (Volags) she parlayed that into massive funding for these organizations.

However, the greatest concession to the community groups, and the worst blow to the integrity of the proposal resulted in turning a good idea into the biggest fraud ever perpetrated against the Immigration Service. Supporters and sympathizers convinced the then Administration that, in order give the amnesty program legitimacy, illegal alien applicants needed to be shielded from government agents coming after them for fraud. Can you imagine? Let any person come forward, make any claim they wished, based on whatever documents they chose to submit; make any statements and claims they chose, and do it with impunity.

In the final legislation, and in the implementing regulations, the law as passed by Congress did just that. Through the establishment of a “Chinese wall” barrier, Immigration Agents were prohibited from seeing any files or documents presented to the Volags, nor could they even question any applicants about their statements in their interviews. Result: Tens of thousands of ineligible persons already here made fraudulent  claims and thousands more aliens back in their home country learning of the wide-open opportunity to jump on the bandwagon swarmed into the U.S. and joined in the fiasco.  Almost ninety percent of the amnesty applications filed in the agricultural (SAW) category were fraudulent and yet approved!

Volags became solidified in championing causes for illegal immigrants and continued to receive massive government funding to “assist” in processing. While employers who complied in the past by refusing to hire illegal aliens continued to comply, those who knowingly used illegals before the law was passed continued to do so with little fear that the few INS agents enforcing the new law would cross their paths.

This was the beginning of the end of interior enforcement of the immigration laws within the INS and the beginning of the created need for a second amnesty today. Bleeding hearts in Congress and some succeeding administrations, particularly during the 1990s, shaped policies and shaved budgets to discourage enforcement programs and, in general, altered the perception of illegal aliens in the country from lawbreakers to a deprived underclass. Indeed, but for 9-11, the country was ready for and surely would have accepted another amnesty a decade ago.

Now we have a proposal by the administration to address the issue of illegal immigration again by enacting “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation. The first leg of the proposal, which actually goes back to the previous leadership, was to stem the flow of persons entering the country illegally by erecting physical barriers at the border in the form of tall fences and beefing up Border Patrol numbers as well. However, in a not-so-subtle shift in policy, the Administration has all but abandoned the idea, simply by failing to fund the construction of any additional fences, a clear signal to present and future crossers. It now appears that the true comprehensive aspect of immigration reform will be focused at finding a way to quietly blend the 15 million or so persons already illegally here onto a path to citizenship with the least disruption to them and their families waiting to join them from back home.

However, I believe all may not be lost. If the Administration is willing to return the processing of Comprehensive Immigration Reform to government control with necessary safeguards to inhibit fraud, and, in addition, to reinstate border integrity and sovereignty, comprehensive immigration reform can and will work.  However, short of those two essential factors being in place and becoming guidelines for lessons learned,  we’ll likely require a third effort to re-address the issue again in two decades or less.

Ben Ferro 


Current or former INS/USCIS/ICE/CBP employees: we want you to make your forum to share with your fellow employees and tell the American public your thoughts and concerns regarding the issues and challenges facing DHS Immigration agencies. So please send those thoughts to us at (please do not include any attachments). For current and former employees, please rest assured that, if you wish not to be identified, your anonymity will be guaranteed if your thoughts are published in this forum.

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