When Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill to the floor, he exemplified the seeming inability of House Republicans to compromise. Republicans need to recognize that in conjunction with tighter border security, instituting effective, lawful channels that expedite citizenship for undocumented immigrants will produce significant disincentives for future illegal immigration.
In order for Congress to draft tangible and beneficial legislation, the issue must be addressed at the source: how do we simultaneously deter illegal immigration and promote naturalization? The Senate bill, which establishes a compromise between Republican and Democratic ideas, outlined preliminary measures that move toward achieving this delicate balance. Before any illegal immigrants can start to pursue citizenship, the Corker-Hoeven amendment requires doubling the amount of border-patrol and increasing expenditures on border security infrastructures. In addition to generating new jobs, intensive border security will decrease the number of illegal border crossings, including drug trafficking that occurs on a stage stretching nearly 2,000 miles between Mexico and the U.S. As intensified security will constrain such activity, illegal immigrants may apply for citizenship — a process that could take almost 13 years.
While the enormity of the Senate bill’s proposals can lead to serious concerns regarding the time-sensitive nature of the immigration reform, the system must take into account that over 11.1 million undocumented immigrants reside in the U.S. — many of which would seek naturalization. Understandably, a process that includes extensive background checks at such a magnitude requires consistency, attention, and time. Nevertheless, once in place, there must be pressure to guarantee the continued assembly of easy and accessible avenues to citizenship. If individuals experience more stringent border security and have assurance that their passage to the U.S. will be secured through proper legalization, there will be a greater incentive for immigrants to pursue naturalization rather than attempt illegal crossing, which could potentially result in imprisonment and deportation.
However, the greatest disincentive for illegal immigration will be the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into society. Already, between 50-75% of illegal immigrants pay local, state, and federal taxes (according to a 2007 report issued by the Congressional Budget Office). In addition, they pay about $7 billion in Social Security fees on a yearly basis. Once naturalized, these individuals will be able to pursue higher paying jobs, which in turn benefit the country due to higher tax yields. The CBO estimates that over 20 years, the proposed Senate bill could reduce the deficit by $685 billion. Subsequently, the increased economic opportunities provided by naturalization could stimulate a proliferated interest in pursuing legal immigration to the U.S.
In a highly integrated world, House Republicans must come to the consensus that simply militarizing the border cannot solve the immigration struggle the U.S. faces. The country must fashion a system that promotes future immigration through legal mechanisms while maintaining stringent enforcement along border regions.