Leadership broken, not immigration system


December 4, 2023

By Matt O’Brien

It has become common for elected leaders, political appointees and talking heads to bemoan our “broken” immigration system. Recently, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, published a statement claiming that our broken Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) “harms people” and “reduces growth and competitiveness.”

Called before Congress to explain why he’s deliberately thrown open the Southern border, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas blamed his own misfeasance on a broken set of immigration laws. And the Center for American Progress has claimed that, “The immigration debate in America today is nearly as broken as the country’s immigration system itself.”

But do we really need to overhaul the rules governing how we admit migrants to the United States? The answer is an emphatic, “No!” If our immigration laws were properly enforced, 95 percent of our immigration problems would disappear immediately.

Those who claim the system is broken regularly cite long wait times, backlogs and the lack of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants to support their contention. But none of these things are indicators that our immigration procedures aren’t working correctly. They are merely inconveniences to people who want totally open, restriction-free borders.

Accordingly, “broken” becomes a shorthand for “we need to let in more foreign nationals.” Moreover, it is an abbreviation inevitably used by people who are wholly unable to explain how adding millions of low-skilled foreigners to our population and workforce is a boon to the American public. And efforts to “fix” the system are generally nothing more than gussied-up proposals for legalized mass migration and amnesty.

In reality, however, there is nothing to fix. What we are suffering from is a plague of elected and appointed political leaders – who would never ignore tax laws or environmental laws – willfully disregarding the provisions of the INA. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this behavior. And they have ignored their sworn duty to protect the American public so they can pander to perceived political constituencies.

The only parts of our immigration system that are currently broken are the moral and political compasses of those we have chosen to oversee it.

One need only look at the misnamed “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) program to see this is true. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, TPS is intended to protect foreign nationals who temporarily cannot return to their home country due to conditions such as ongoing armed conflict, a natural disaster or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. However, as the Pew Research Center has noted, “Most Current TPS beneficiaries have lived in the U.S. for two decades or more.” Nevertheless, even though there is nothing prohibiting them from doing so, several generations of American policymakers have refused to eject TPS recipients when conditions return to normal in their home country.

The problem isn’t that TPS is broken. TPS has failed because those in charge of executing the program have deliberately refused to treat it as a temporary form of relief.

Even worse than lax application of U.S. immigration laws are consistent efforts to reward immigration law breakers. The 1986 amnesty was based on the absurd presumption that illegal immigrants, who had allegedly become “attached” to America, should be allowed to obtain green cards and become U.S. citizens. Unsurprisingly, this inspired millions of other foreign nationals to unlawfully enter the United States in hopes that another mass pardon would be declared.

When the Obama Administration proved unable to secure a repeat amnesty, it unilaterally declared one in the form of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It then tried to expand DACA through the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program (DAPA). Although DAPA was declared unconstitutional by the courts, it signaled yet more toleration for violations of American immigration law. Families in Central and South America responded promptly by sending their children to the United States in hopes the DACA free-for-all would continue.

Once again, the difficulty didn’t stem from shortcomings in our immigration statutes. The problem in the case of the 1986 amnesty was that Congress enacted a foolish program transmitting a clear message that, when it came to immigration, the United States no longer cared about the rule of law. In the case of the DACA and DAPA schemes, the problem was that President Obama acted entirely outside the law.

America’s immigration statutes exist to protect the citizens of the United States and their national interests – not to ensure the happiness of foreigners. And repeated polls have indicated that Americans want their presidents and legislative representatives to start prioritizing their desire for border security over the desires of law-breaking foreigners.

Our immigration laws provide more than ample power to secure our borders, deport immigration lawbreakers and send a clear message to the world that America’s sovereignty will not be violated by drug cartels, migrant caravans, terrorists – or anyone else. The only parts of our immigration system that are currently broken are the moral and political compasses of those we have chosen to oversee it.

Matt O’Brien is the director investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute and the co-host of IRLI’s podcast “No Border, No Country.” Immediately prior to working for IRLI he served as an immigration judge. He has nearly 30 years of experience in immigration law and policy, having held numerous positions within the Department of Homeland Security.

Also published at The Boston Herald, December 4, 2023.

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