Monday, February 4, 2013

Lou Barletta: Immigration Reform Risks Flood Of The Undocumented

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) said Sunday that he cannot support providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants because he doesn't think President Barack Obama has any desire to enforce existing immigration laws. Barletta dismissed the record number of deportations already taking place.

"You wouldn't replace your carpet at home if you still had a hole in the roof," he said on ABC's "This Week." "We're talking about any time you start waving a carrot such as American citizenship without securing the borders, that number [of undocumented immigrants] that we have today I believe will double or triple."

Barletta has been an outspoken opponent of any immigration reform that involves citizenship. Last week, he insisted Republicans will not win over Latino voters by passing immigration reform because undocumented immigrants are, according to him, uneducated and therefore unlikely to support the GOP.

"I hope politics is not at the root of why we're rushing to pass a bill. Anyone who believes that they're going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken," Barletta said, according to Lehigh Valley's Morning Call. "The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they'll depend on."

He did not make the same argument on Sunday, instead focusing on the idea that a pathway to citizenship would swell the undocumented population. "This is 1986 all over again," Barletta said, referring to a law signed by President Ronald Reagan that allowed some undocumented immigrants to become citizens but did not successfully curtail future unauthorized immigration.

Since then, deportations have also increased greatly, including under Obama. His administration deported more than 400,000 people in the 2012 fiscal year and is on track to deport many more in 2013.

However, the Obama administration also sued to block Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law and has put in place policies that allow some undocumented immigrants to stay, which Barletta said Sunday discounts its deportation numbers.

"We can argue about that all day long," he said of Obama's immigration enforcement. "I don't know how anyone can argue that this administration is serious about enforcing our laws when they're suing the state of Arizona -- because the federal government has caused the problem and Arizona wants to defend itself."

A number of other Republicans have likewise accused the president of being weak on immigration enforcement as an argument against comprehensive immigration reform. A reform framework put out last week by a bipartisan "gang of eight" in the Senate attempted to address those concerns by tying green cards to stronger border security, granting undocumented immigrants only provisional status until certain border metrics are met.

But some Republicans were still skeptical. On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) called Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the gang of eight, "amazingly naïve" to support such a framework.

"Look, I love and respect Marco," Vitter said on Laura Ingraham's radio show. "I just think he’s amazingly naïve on this issue. This is the same old formula we've dealt with before, including when it passed in 1986, and that is the promise of enforcement and immediate amnesty. And of course, the promises of enforcement never materialize. The amnesty happens immediately, the millisecond the bill is signed into law. And the same is true here."

Despite GOP opposition, Jorge Ramos, a Univision anchor and supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, said on "This Week" that he is more optimistic than ever before that reform can pass.

"I don't remember ever seeing the president and both parties rushing to beat the other to present an immigration proposal," Ramos said. "I haven't seen that. It's the most important immigration news in the last 30 years."


Fix immigration with enforcement first

Immigration reform is coming. Let's get it right. What counts as getting it wrong? The 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, signed by President Reagan. It granted amnesty to the then 3 million illegal immigrants and promised border enforcement.

Amnesty came. Enforcement never did. Reagan was swindled.

Americans are a generous people. They don't want 11 million souls living in fear among them. They would willingly, indeed overwhelmingly, support amnesty — as long as it is the last. They don't want another Simpson-Mazzoli, another bait-and-switch that lets in another 11 million illegal immigrants — and brings us back where we began.

There is an obvious solution: enforcement first. Hence the attraction of the bipartisan Senate deal reached by the Gang of Eight, led by Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republicans John McCain and Marco Rubio. It is said to feature border enforcement first, then legalization.

Not quite.

It is true that only after some commission deems the border under control do illegal immigrants become eligible for green cards and, ultimately, citizenship. But this is misleading because on the day the president signs the reform — long before enforcement even begins — the 11 million are immediately subject to instant legalization.

It is cleverly called “probationary” legal status. But the adjective is meaningless. It grants the right to live and work here openly. Once granted, it will never be revoked. Consider:

Imagine that the border-control commission reports at some point that the border is not yet secure. Do you think for a moment that the 11 million will have their “probationary” legalization revoked? These are people who, in good faith, would have come out of the shadows, registered with the feds and disclosed their domicile and place of work. Do you think the authorities will have them fired, arrested and deported?

Inconceivable. “Probationary” in this context means, in reality, “forever.” (Unless, of course, you commit some crime.) It means they can stay and work here freely for the rest of their lives.

True, they must await the “enforcement trigger” before they can apply for green cards. But they already have the functional equivalent of a green card. They got that on Day One. That matters more than anything to those living here illegally: the right to continue living here without fear. Forever. That's the very essence of amnesty.

And all this happens before the first scintilla of extra enforcement takes place. Which brings us to the second problem. What does this extra enforcement consist of?

When I heard McCain talk about (among other measures) new high-tech border control with advanced radar and drones, my heart sank. We've been here. In 2006, Congress threw a ton of money at a high-tech fence. Five years, $1 billion and a pathetic 53 (out of 2,000) miles later, Janet Napolitano canceled the program as a complete failure.

That was predictable. And some of us predicting it were pleading for something infinitely cheaper and simpler: a prosaic, low-tech fence. Of the kind built near San Diego (triple-layered) that resulted in an astounding 92 percent drop in apprehensions. Like the Israeli fence built along the West Bank that has reduced terrorist infiltration to practically zero.

There's a reason people have been building fences for, oh, 5,000 years. They work.

The current Senate proposal must be improved, either in the Senate or by the House. It's not complicated. Build the damn fence. And give “probationary legal status” to the 11 million -- not on the day the bill is signed but on the day the fence is completed. Have the president drive in the golden fence post at Promontory Point II and sign the amnesty right there. Great photo op.

With the sequencing — and thus the incentives — so properly aligned, I assure you the fence will go up with amazing alacrity. As it should. The point is not to punish anyone or to make things harder, but to ensure we don't have to do this again — agonizing over the next 11 million cruelly living here in the shadows.

I know many Republicans are coming over to immigration reform because of the 2012 election results. Fine. I've been advocating this for seven years (“First a wall -- then amnesty,” April 7, 2006). Welcome aboard.

But remember: Enforcement followed by legalization is not just the political thing to do. It is the right thing to do — an act both of national generosity and national interest. It has long been the best answer to the immigration conundrum. It remains so.


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