When the 112th Congress convenes later this month, the national debate over federal immigration policy will enter its third of three phases that began in 1965 with the Immigration and Nationality Act. Phase one, “More Immigration,” lasted from 1965 to 2000.
Phase two, “Restricting Immigration,” opens after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. From 2001 through 2010, those who favored less immigration and fewer entitlements for immigrants thwarted efforts made open borders lobbyists, the Hispanic Caucus and other liberal Democrats to increase immigration.
The third phase, “Enforcement,” will begin in 2011.
The period from 1965 to 2000 saw huge changes that made more immigration easier and introduced an unlimited number of family-based visas that created chain migration, a practice that’s boosted America’s population to unsustainable levels. Immigration doubled between 1965 and 1970, then doubled again from 1970 to 1990.
During those 35 years, the government ignored illegal immigration. By 1986, the illegal immigrant population had risen steadily to 3 million. By 1986, in a misguided effort to stabilize immigration, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act that eventually granted legal status to 2.7 million aliens.
Instead of reducing illegal immigration, it actually stimulated more. During the 1990s, about 500,000 illegal aliens settled annually in the United States.
During the “More Immigration” period, the Congress created non-immigrant work visas like the H-1B. This allowed many visa holders to eventually change their status from non-immigrant to permanent resident.
Furthermore, some states made concessions to illegal immigrants by granting them driver’s licenses, in-state college tuition and recognizing the matricula consular card as valid identification. Perceiving that their path would be easier once they arrived in the United States, many more aliens were encouraged to come.
But then, after 9/11, resistance to immigration intensified. During the decade I call “Restricting Immigration,” Congress attempted several times to pass broad comprehensive immigration reform, a phrase that meant “amnesty”.
After repeated comprehensive immigration reform failures, Congress tried to pass individual amnesty bills, namely the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. This month, the Senate voted down the DREAM Act; AgJOBS never got to the floor.
On the state level, Arizona’s S.B. 1070 may have established a template for local government to have the authority, under certain circumstances, to check the immigration status of its residents.
Now, effective in January, the United States will begin its immigration “Enforcement” period. With a Republican majority in the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman-elect Lamar Smith announced that his primary goal is to focus on border security to reduce illegal immigration and thereby open up job opportunities for unemployed Americans. Internal enforcement, once a valuable pre-1965 method to punish employers and discourage illegal workers, may again become a useful tool.
Smith’s House colleague, Iowa’s representative Steve King who will head the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, is also focused on jobs.
King hopes to pass a bill he introduced last year that would require the Internal Revenue Service to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration about workers’ immigration status.
According to King, if employers couldn’t claim tax deductions for illegal immigrant workers’ wages and benefits, aliens who earned $10 an hour would cost the employer the equivalent of $16 an hour. By extension, King expects his bill would result in aliens being fired and replaced by Americans.
Peter King (R-NY), who will assume the House Homeland Security chair, echoed the promises of his fellow Republican leaders: tighter enforcement, more border security and more deportations.
A new and better day in immigration politics has finally dawned.