America / Immigration / Politics

The Bad Policy of De Facto Amnesty

In the past weeks U.S. Representative Steve King, a Republican from Iowa’s 4th district, has emerged as the leader of the anti-immigration reform coalition in the House. Cantaloupes and drug mules aside, King has become the face of conservative opposition to any proposed reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, or even legal status. King’s argument (when not focused on the size of a DREAMer’s calves) is a simple one: those who reside in the United States have broken the law, and to allow them to stay is to grant them amnesty for their crimes – thus abandoning the rule of law, a fundamental pillar of the United States.

My colleague Cyrus Saffari wrote a great piece last week about how King’s views are not representative of his district when it comes to granting undocumented immigrants legal status. King’s argument is not in line with his constituents, so either he believes that he knows better than those he represents, or he believes that the rule of law supersedes the beliefs of his constituents.

Such an argument is a difficult one to make when taking into account the benefits of reform. The benefits are many, and such reform has drawn support from a wide range of outside groups and constituencies: the business-oriented Chamber of Commerce, the libertarian Cato Institute, and the labor giant AFL-CIO, to name a few. The Congressional Budget Office gave a very favorable score to the Senate’s comprehensive bill, saying that the reform would save taxpayers $197 billion over 10 years, would increase real GDP by 3.3% in 2023, and would bring Social Security closer to solvency. Economists like Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum and former Congressional Budget Office Director, have found that immigration reform would raise per capita income while also offsetting declines in population growth and the housing market.

King and other opponents of reform neglect these benefits, saying that there are no positives if the rule of law is abandoned. But no matter how important the rule of law may be, King and his faction within the Republican conference have not provided a truly viable solution on how to handle the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Self-deportation is an untenable wish that will result in almost no illegals leaving. At the same time, it is hard to imagine the small government-minded Tea Partiers supporting a huge government police force tasked with rounding up 11 million persons and deporting them to their original homes. It seems that King would rather the 11 million continue to live in the shadows, all while not paying taxes and taking advantage of our emergency rooms and other services.

While inaction may cost little now, it is a short-sighted mind that does not recognize that the current system is unsustainable; more undocumented immigrants will only continue to flood across the porous southern border seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Current reform efforts not only ensure that the border is secure, but that those seeking to come to the United States can do so in a safe and legal manner.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Favoring the status quo – a broken immigration system with millions here illegally – over viable reform with clear economic, security, and humanitarian benefits is simply bad policy.