Building a Fence on the U.S.-Mexico Border is Not Immigration Reform

Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 50 people in the largest identification fraud case in the agency’s history. Immigration reform continues to be a major issue, with several states challenging the federal government’s constitutional authority to set and enforce immigration policy under Section 1 Article 8 of the Constitution.

People from all countries enter the U.S. both legally and illegally. However, much of the commentary focuses on the number of people entering the U.S. without documentation across our border with Mexico. Subsequently, between 40% and 50% of the problem (those who overstay or violate terms of their visas) is being ignored. Building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border will not stop this.

Millions of people enter this country legally. While most may abide by the terms of their visas, many do not. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a program in place to track visitors, but this system, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is not working. As of May 2011, there were over 1.6 million people suspected of overstaying their visas who were pending investigation. It is well known that most of the 9/11 terrorists as well as dozens of suspected terrorists arrested since 9/11 entered legally.

Those who enter on temporary work visas are required to be sponsored by their prospective employers and re-sponsored by a new employer should they change jobs. While I could not find current data, I have personally known of people holding H1-B visas not complying with this provision.

The key to true immigration reform is to enforce and fully fund implementation of our current immigration laws and tools.

1) Fund full implementation and clear the backlog facing the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
2) Enforce all non-immigrant visa requirements to include H2A (Temporary Agricultural Workers) and H1B (Temporary Specialty Occupations).
3) Discontinue use of the I-9 (Verification of Eligibility to Work in the U.S.) form and replace with full implementation of E-Verify.
4) Ensure Affidavits of Sponsorship are enforced.
5) Fully fund U.S. Customs and Immigration enforcement capabilities.
6) Correct flaws in visa processing procedures.

Once current laws are fully enforced and the current tools available fully implemented, we will know the true issues facing our immigration policy.  Discussion can then begin on: the definition of birthright under the 14th Amendment; the status of children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents; the process of returning those in the country without documentation to their homeland to apply for proper admission; the proper handling of children brought into the country illegally by their parents; the responsibility of parents for negative consequences; the redefinition of available safety-net programs; and the possibility that sponsors be the safety-net of first response for those legally in the country and life and death medical emergency for those illegal.

True immigration reform starts with using our current laws. A fence along our southern border is not the fix.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons