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Should Illegal Immigrants Be Legalized? | Commentary

The president and some members of Congress are promoting immigration legislation that legalizes most of the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country. But what’s the rush?

A Gallup poll last month found that less than 3 percent of Republicans, independents and Democrats consider immigration reform to be a top issue. And in a recent Pew poll, Hispanics ranked immigration next to last among five subjects. Jobs and the economy, health care and education were more important. Congress should focus on what the American people — not politicians — care about.

On the subject of jobs, legalization would give illegal immigrants work permits, which hurts American workers who would have to compete with them for scarce jobs. Those hurt the worst are minorities. The unemployment rate for Hispanics is more than 8 percent and for black Americans almost 12 percent. Unbiased studies, including from the Congressional Budget Office, show that Americans’ wages are depressed when the labor market is flooded with legalized workers.

What is legalization’s impact on taxpayers? The Heritage Foundation determined that the net cost to taxpayers per illegal immigrant household is $28,000 when access to government programs is considered. Furthermore, those in low-skilled jobs will drain the Social Security Trust Fund. Over their lifetime, they will get tens of thousands of dollars more than they paid into it. This will hasten the insolvency of Social Security and could lead to reduced benefits for others.

What should be done about the 11 million people in the country illegally? There is no way to “solve” the illegal immigration problem since there always will be illegal immigrants. The Congressional Budget Office projected that 10 years after the Senate legalization bill would go into effect, there still would be 7 million illegal immigrants in the United States. They will continue to come, either because they don’t want to wait in line or want to qualify for legalization and use fraudulent documents to obtain work permits or government benefits.

Of course, legalization would treat millions of illegal immigrants better than those who are playing by the rules and waiting their turn in line. This is unfair to those who are following the law and have to watch law-breakers get rewarded. Why should they wait in line another day? Legalization invites more illegal immigration.

Even if legislation attempted to secure the border, could we trust the president to enforce the law? Let’s look at his record. The Obama administration is releasing more criminal immigrants than they are deporting. Deportations from the interior have declined 40 percent since 2009. And the president has ignored, or undermined through executive orders, a half-dozen immigration laws. The American people rightfully have little confidence that the president would implement security measures. And they might remember that in the last legalization bill in 1986, the promised enforcement never occurred.

Those supporting legalization say that it doesn’t confer citizenship. Once legalized, though, the former illegal immigrants receive a green card and are on the highway to the greatest honor our country can bestow. All they have to do is wait five years, and they are eligible for citizenship. So legalization does put them in the express lane for citizenship and ahead of those who have been waiting in line.

While we’re at it, we should call legalization what it is — amnesty. The definition of amnesty in Black’s Law Dictionary would include legalization: “A pardon extended by the government to a group or class of persons … the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already present in the country.” Whether the illegal immigrants pay a fine or back taxes (which is not enforceable) is irrelevant to the definition of amnesty.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and its Immigration Subcommittee. He continues to serve on both.

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