The Border and Beyond

Did enforcement die with amnesty?

By Mark Cromer
June 2007

With comprehensive immigration reform defeated in the Senate, the question looms: what now?

It seems many people, including some lawmakers, who opposed the bill are inclined to think that the answer is—at long last—a serious and sustained effort by Washington to secure the border and enforce immigration and labor laws already on the books.

Sadly, they couldn’t be more mistaken.

The worksite raids that were staged in advance of the Senate’s debate of the bill will now most surely grind to a halt. The illusory build-up of deterrents at the border in both men and material will now evaporate like the fine mist those props actually were.

And as the stagecraft that was Bush Administration’s newfound commitment to secure the borders and enforce immigration laws disappears faster than his approval ratings, another tsunami-sized swell of impoverished migrants seeking a better life will head to America.

The reason for this is simple: Bush and his like-minded allies on immigration in Congress never intended to secure the border or enforce the laws to begin with, which is why they had to pass sweeping provisions that immediately legalized tens of millions of illegal immigrants at the very same time they allegedly were getting tough on enforcement.

Sure, proponents of the bill claimed that enforcement “triggers” would first have to be met before the legalization elements of the bill went into effect, but that was merely a sweet nothing whispered coyly into the ear of citizens in an effort to let mass amnesty proceed.

These so-called “triggers” are about as solid as the Bush Administration’s security “benchmarks” in Baghdad—and would have been just as effective.

There wasn’t much debate or discussion of just what would happen to the status of the millions of illegal immigrants if those security and enforcement triggers were not met. Would they face deportation at that point? Hardly.

Considering that the bill instantly pardoned the more than 600,000 fugitive aliens—read felons—who are currently running loose in the country, it is clear that Washington has no intention whatsoever of aggressively enforcing its immigration laws and actively catching and deporting those who violate them.

If proponents of allowing illegal immigrants to legalize their status in the United States were serious about getting tough on the border and worksite enforcement, they would have adapted an enforcement-first approach several years ago and earnestly set about demonstrating that commitment by deed, not sound-bite.

Indeed, had they focused on serious enforcement initiatives at the start of Bush’s second term, some form of legalization would likely already be on the President’s desk.

Instead, they spent the past two years insisting enforcement won’t work (oddly, that’s rarely heard about enforcement of tax collection), denigrating those who favor enforcement as xenophobic cave people and shamelessly pandering to Latino voters by relentlessly framing the debate in racial terms.

So if real enforcement was a non-starter for this administration and this Congress before its epic “grand bargain” was killed, it certainly isn’t going to become one now.

As Washington remains intransient on enforcement, millions more migrants from the vast impoverished regions of Latin America will head north, inspired by the sense that some form of amnesty will eventually be adapted and it’s better to be here the next time it is offered.

Businesses that use illegal immigrants will enjoy both this boon of surging waves of cheap, exploitable labor and Washington’s continued commitment to do nothing serious about border security or interior worksite enforcement.

In the parlance of Wall Street, it’s a ‘win-win.’

Makes you wonder if it isn’t what they had in mind all along.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), . He can be reached at or