Decades of Gallup polls have shown a substantial portion of the public, at times large majorities, favoring reduced immigration – a sentiment ignored by both parties. The GOP’s business wing has pushed for more skilled and unskilled workers from overseas, mainly by lobbying for large expansions of various visa categories, while Democrats, aligned with minority voters, have sought easier entry for family-based migrants and legalization for those who entered the U.S. without permission, but have since established themselves.
Yesterday marks 10 years since the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to pass then-Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner's H.R. 4437: the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. It passed 239-182 on a bipartisan basis, with key support from 36 Democrats voting in favor. Now-Speaker Paul Ryan voted for it, too.
Among a long list of helpful provisions were 700 miles of border fencing, a phasing-in of nationwide employment verification via E-Verify, and a very slight reduction in legal immigration by ending the ludicrous Visa Lottery program.
Who thinks Americans desire these measures less now?
Recall the 2002 El Al ticket counter shooting at LAX - a quasi-prequel to the San Bernardino shooting a couple weeks ago, as the shooter was legalized through his Visa Lottery-winning wife. The failures of immigration vetting and enforcement are hauntingly similar to print reports today:
“Although the INS denied his request, Hadayet managed to remain in the U.S. with a temporary work permit until his wife won an INS lottery that gave the family legal residency in 1997.”
“William Yates, INS deputy executive associate commissioner, said that at the time the INS reviewed Hadayet’s application there was no evidence linking him with terrorist networks. He acknowledged, however, that neither the FBI nor the CIA were involved in conducting a criminal background check of Hadayet.”
A case can be made that the vetting is even less competent at present:
“Ms. Malik faced three extensive national security and criminal background screenings. First, Homeland Security officials checked her name against American law enforcement and national security databases. Then, her visa application went to the State Department, which checked her fingerprints against other databases. Finally, after coming to the United States and formally marrying Mr. Farook here, she applied for her green card and received another round of criminal and security checks.
“Ms. Malik also had two in-person interviews, federal officials said, the first by a consular officer in Pakistan, and the second by an immigration officer in the United States when she applied for her green card.
“All those reviews came back clear, and the F.B.I. has said it had no incriminating information about Ms. Malik or Mr. Farook in its databases. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have said they followed all policies and procedures. The departments declined to provide any documentation or specifics about the process, saying they cannot discuss the case because of the continuing investigation.”
There's no acceptable set of policies that can guarantee we will stop all jihadi attacks on U.S. soil, but learning from our repeated deficiencies in this area surely constitutes the lowest hanging fruit. It's so sun-soaked that even the over-ripe pieces are starting to look appealing to many Americans.
Aside from the improvement in national security, had Sensenbrenner's bill become law 10 years ago we'd have vastly more border fencing, an established employment verification system in effect for every job, and some 500,000 fewer foreign job-seekers who arrived via a fraud-rife program that favors - disproportionately - citizens of nations considered "founts of terrorism." That sounds pretty popular.
Furthermore, Marco Rubio could now be having the discussion he says he really wants. With a track record of proven immigration enforcement and years of new job openings throughout the economy being available for legal workers only, perhaps the trust gap with the public would be sufficiently assuaged to broach the topic of one last amnesty.
Instead, the same well-funded interest groups that opposed immigration enforcement in 2005 continue to spend big on increasing foreign workers through whatever channels possible. Never-mind that immigration increases are supported by a mere 15% of Americans, the influence has thus far been sufficient to deny Barbara Jordan's recommendations for two decades.
Yet hope remains. The Great Wave eventually came to an end in spite of three Presidents vetoing legislation to restrain mass immigration. The consistent pressure of the voters won out eventually.
With prominent stories on H-1B and H-2 visas, labor market surpluses, stagnant wages since 1973, continuing security concerns, and more elections, Americans may prove unwilling to allow another 10 years to pass before their elected representation to advance such a modest, common-sense package of reforms.
ANDREW GOOD works on the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA and served as executive director for the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus from 2004-2007.
Updated: Thu, Dec 31st 2015 @ 9:10am EST