As is, immigration bill a recipe for failure

As is, immigration bill a recipe for failure

As Congress debates overhauling our broken immigration system, the bottom line should be this: Will the new system be enforceable and restore respect for our laws? Or will it be unenforceable and lead to even more illegality in the future?This is not a minor matter. America is successful because it is a nation of laws. We now have a situation in which some laws are routinely ignored. If we approve yet another law that promises reform yet again fails to deliver on its promises, our precious heritage as a nation of law will be in serious jeopardy.

Our recent experience is not reassuring. In 1986, we approved an amnesty for an estimated 3 million people here illegally but promised that we would enforce the law in the future. That promise was never honored. Unsurprisingly, we now have at least 12 million here illegally, and more watching how we handle this situation.

Even after 9-11, our record of enforcement is sadly lacking. For example, in 2004, demanding better control of our border, Congress approved a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that requires a U.S. passport starting this spring for anyone visiting Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

The State and Homeland Security departments had three full years to prepare for an easily foreseeable flood of new passport applications. However, we are seeing the results. Planning and staffing for the new law has been woefully inadequate.

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who applied for passports in January and February of this year, anticipating travel this summer, have not yet received their documents. The passport office is in near-chaos. All over the United States, people are turning to congressional offices seeking help.

Some critics are justifiably asking: If the federal government cannot even handle routine passport applications for U.S. citizens, how can it possibly do thorough background checks and issue visas for millions of foreign-born applicants?

An oversight report last year declared that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services already is overworked and stretched to its breaking point. Under the immigration reform bill being debated, that USCIS work-load would be tripled — without any significant increase in resources.

For example, the new bill gives the USCIS all of 24 hours to grant a probationary “Z” visa to any undocumented alien requesting it during the first year that the law is effective. If 12 million apply as expected, that means USCIS would have to process an average of 48,000 applications every day.

But the USCIS has only 3,000 staffers to process and review applications, including background checks. The current legislation would add only 100 new adjudicators each year for five years.

Clearly, the agency is being set up for failure. We are ensuring that the new system will not be workable. Law enforcement personnel assure me that there is no way a reliable background check could be conducted within 24 hours even if sufficient personnel were available.

Other aspects are equally troubling. The 1986 amnesty failed in part because of massive document fraud. The current Senate legislation, rather than learning from the 1986 experience, instead duplicates its errors.

Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security is again prohibited from using all information from Z visa applications to weed out ineligible applicants.

It also forbids crucial information-sharing among law enforcement agencies. For example, if an applicant is denied a Z visa on noncriminal grounds, the bill does not allow DHS to use information supplied — such as a home address — to locate and deport the illegal entrant.

As I traveled throughout our state last week, I found Texans profoundly skeptical about this immigration bill. Their suspicion is justified. The federal government in recent years has proven that it is not serious about securing our borders and enforcing our laws. Passing yet another law that cannot be enforced will merely add to our broad disillusionment.

Last week, President Bush asserted in a speech that those of us who have raised questions about this bill “don’t want to do what’s right for America.” I respectfully disagree. Working to secure our borders and restoring respect for our laws is exactly what is right for America. Repeating the mistakes of 1986 is not.

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