By JAMES H. "SMOKEY" SHOTT
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When illegal immigration is the subject, a large faction keeps saying that immigrants contributed greatly to building America into the greatest nation on Earth, and that we should therefore give all those illegals citizenship or some sort of legal status. And it is true that smart, dedicated, hard-working people who came here for a better life made tremendous contributions to the American success story.
But those people came here the right way, by following immigration procedures. Right now, there are some 4.5 million people following in their footsteps waiting to come to America legally.
Currently, however, there are some 11 million people inside our borders who did not come here the proper way. About 40 percent of them are foreigners who arrived legally, frequently on tourist visas, and simply didn’t leave when they were supposed to.
Most of the other seven million illegals are low-wage workers and their families who sneaked over the southern border, and even though they did not enter the country honorably by obeying immigration laws are people who are here for honorable purposes. And then there are the punks and thugs bent on committing vicious crimes, including murder, against American citizens.
For every 100 actual American citizens there are roughly three people residing in the country illegally, and that is a huge problem.
Actually, there are two separate problems: One problem is what do we do with the people here illegally, and the second, and most important, is how do we remedy the circumstances that allowed this intolerable situation to develop so that it never happens again?
Our immigration system has been both neglected and mismanaged, and as a result the country has endured substantial harm. This situation has been the genesis of frequent and strong calls to reform the immigration system. But the immigration system is not what failed; the people in positions to competently operate it and enforce the laws have failed — and in some cases, refused — to do their jobs.
So, the question is: What do we do about the fact that we have 11 million illegals now in the country?
Perhaps past history will be a good guide as to how we should proceed. What the bipartisan U.S. Senate “Gang of Eight” is proposing today is very similar to what was done in the 1986 amnesty when Ronald Reagan was president.
According to Mr. Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese, writing in the Heritage Foundation’s “The Foundry;” “The path to citizenship was not automatic. Immigrants had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam, and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible.” That is quite similar to the “Gang of Eight’s” idea.
When the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 was enacted, there were approximately five million illegal aliens in the country, and about 2.7 million of them benefited from the IRCA. What has happened since then is that the number of illegal aliens has more than doubled.
What went wrong after that compassionate act to grant legal status to those illegal aliens that caused not a decrease in the number of illegals, but a dramatic increase?
“Well, one reason is that everything else the 1986 bill promised-from border security to law enforcement-was to come later,” Mr. Meese said. “It never did. Only amnesty prevailed, and that encouraged more illegal immigration.” Had we done all that the IRCA required, we likely would not have the problem we have today.
In fact, Mr. Meese writes, the failure of the federal government to implement all of the elements of the IRCA to protect the nation from people entering illegally in the years after its passage caused Mr. Reagan to regard the amnesty as the greatest mistake of his administration.
Now that we see what happened after 1986 when we failed to prevent people from illegally entering the country, and this time we have to make sure that does not happen again. We therefore have to yield to the strong demand for securing the borders and putting improved control programs in place before doing anything to provide legal status of any kind to any illegal alien.
We have to become more sensible and less ruled by compassionate impulses. The country and the states cannot afford amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, or for half that number, no matter how nice they may be.
What must happen first is to do whatever is necessary to secure the borders. After that — but only after that — whatever steps we take must protect the interests of the United States before considering the interests of illegal aliens. And we must honor the 4.5 million who are waiting to come to America the proper way before helping illegals.
If you steal food because you are hungry, you have a good reason, but you still broke the law. If you want a better life and sneak into a country that offers promise for a better life, you have a good reason, but you still have done something wrong.
We must not endorse wrongdoing by rewarding it.
James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.