The word in Washington is that S. 744, the Gang of Eight's immigration bill, must move to the right if it is to pass the Senate by a 70-vote, bipartisan margin, and thereby pressure the House to approve a (no doubt rightward-leaning) version of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).

Some Members of Congress, however, Senator John Cornyn (R. TX) among them, don't trust the Executive Branch to secure the border. The Texan has therefore proposed a 134-page amendment that, besides imposing numerous forms of Congressional micro-management, would allow most undocumented people to transition from Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status to lawful permanent residency only if and when the border is proven to be essentially impregnable.

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, calls the Cornyn amendment a "poison pill." Sen. Charles Schumer (D. NY) and Sen. John McCain (R. AZ) say they'll try to work with Sen. Cornyn for an acceptable compromise that does not hold RPIs hostage for an intolerable and uncertain time beyond the 10 years already provided in S. 744.

All of this emphasis on border security is supposedly intended to fix the problem of illegal immigration once and for all. There must be no repeat of the 1987 fiasco that is the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), an imperfect law, it is said, which allowed the undocumented population to grow by millions. IRCA was flawed, to be sure, in not imposing a biometric system of identity and employment verification, not creating an entry-exit verification system, not making the border more secure, and not creating a legal system for the future flow of foreign workers to serve the needs of the American economy.

Experience, however, teaches a few verities that both the Gang of Eight (G8) and Sen. Cornyn seem to ignore:

  • No law will ever be so successful as to prevent determined families from reuniting even if it means crossing a heavily fortified national border illegally.
  • Eliminating the "pull" factor of American jobs will not remove pressures on the border caused by the "push" of economic misery, political instability, religious intolerance, dictatorial regimes, natural catastrophes, wars and revolutions.
  • E-Verify will not succeed in closing the systemic holes allowing unauthorized persons to gain employment in the U.S. until Americans are willing to accept the loss of privacy and liberty inherent in a massive national database and system requiring all native-born and naturalized citizens to pay for, obtain and proffer a fraud-proof national work-permission card in order to be hired.
  • An unrealistically low quota, such as the maximum of 200,000 visas allotted per year under the "W" category proposed in S. 744 for unskilled and low-skilled foreign workers, disregards the needs of the American economy and creates new pressures to breach the border illegally.
  • If illegal entries are to be stemmed, then abuses at U.S. consular posts abroad, such as the recurrent problems of far-too-powerful, abusive, inadequately staffed, unmonitored and sometimes even criminal consular officers (like the American visa officer in Vietnam who is alleged to have sold nonimmigrant visas for up to $70,000 each) must be more vigorously policed and subject to robust review.
  • Border enforcement requires a far more substantial investment in the courts than is proposed by Sen. Cornyn or the G8 (as these letters from the Judicial Conference of the United States to the Chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee underscore), and a dramatic revamping of the atrocious "system" by which "immigration justice" is meted out.
  • Secret, unchecked administrative processes in the immigration system, just like the recently revealed NSA monitoring of all Americans' phone calls, must be subject to the rule of law, an expanded right to counsel and greater transparency.
  • Immigration protectionism will boomerang and ultimately harm America just as much or more than trade protectionism.

The Fortress America concept of an impermeable border would devastate America's position in the global economy and hurt us far more than protect us. Border communities are thriving precisely because the borders are permeable. Whether the border is surrounded by alligators (as President Obama jokingly suggested might be the only means to satisfy border hawks), or electrified (as Herman Cain proposed), we must never bar the door so strongly as to toss out the welcome mat. The border must be managed so that the worthy are allowed speedy ingress and the harmful are barred.

A new concept must be developed, perhaps one taken from the fishing industry where the government must strive to promote economic benefit while minimizing environmental harm. Consider, for example, tuna fishing. Americans love their tuna sandwiches but they would choke if they thought that Flipper must be killed just to have a tasty lunch. Enter Dolphin-Safe Tuna Fishing and Labeling.

Thus, Senators and Representatives, further strengthen the border if you must, but not so much as to destroy the countless benefits of comprehensive immigration reform. Paraphrasing Sen. John McCain's "complete the danged fence," we Americans must insist that our legislators hunker down and just "pass the danged" CIR.