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Enforcement' of Immigration Laws Already Here

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Have you noticed that our immigration laws are finally being enforced? That illegal immigration is way down? That employers hiring undocumented workers are finally being punished? And that this is being done in the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama? If not, take note.

Washington's 2007 "Grand Bargain" on immigration crashed and burned mostly for the following reason: The public thought that the federal government would do the amnesty part -- letting millions of illegal immigrants become citizens -- but not the enforcement part -- taking the ban on hiring undocumented workers seriously.

A parade of successful amnesties and failed enforcement efforts had soured Americans on such "bargains." Polls suggest that most would go along with another amnesty, if it's truly the last one. Toward that end, many Americans call for "enforcement first": Show us you mean it, and then we'll work on legalizing the status of most undocumented workers.

Even during the plush times, mass illegal immigration was unfair to low-skilled Americans. While wages rose for most job categories during labor shortages, they stayed flat or fell for dishwashers or others who competed with a flood of unauthorized foreign workers. With high unemployment now, there's no excuse for going easy on illegal labor other than the humanitarian one. The great majority are good, hard-working people who have established lives here. Sure, they broke laws with phony Social Security cards and under-the-table arrangements, but these were laws that previous administrations -- particularly that of George W. Bush -- held in contempt.

The Bush administration would rough up some illegal immigrants in factory raids and put them in cuffs. Sometimes they separated parents from their children. If you wanted to create the perfect visuals for turning off the public to immigration enforcement, this was it.

But it wasn't real enforcement at all. Only a handful of factories were raided, and their owners emerged largely untouched.

The Obama administration has been far less dramatic but far more effective. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has done thousands of "silent raids" on employee records. A company found to employ illegal workers must let them go and pay a fine. Many are now returning to their native countries.

ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Its secretary, former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, knows all about the chaos unleashed by open borders.

Here's an example of how the enforcement works, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal: An illegal immigrant couple from Mexico lost their good-paying jobs cleaning offices following a silent raid on the Minneapolis company that employed them. They took a less attractive position with a smaller janitorial service, but the feds audited that company's employment records, and so they were out of another job. They then worked for a cleaning company known for paying less than the minimum wage. ICE went after that company, as well.

As of early this month, ICE was auditing 2,393 companies. That's the largest number in any fiscal year, and a message to both would-be illegal immigrants and those who hire them. The chances of getting caught are no longer minuscule.

With confidence growing in immigration enforcement, the time should be approaching for the second step, legalization. The administration's new policy of not deporting young illegal immigrants headed for college or the armed forces on a case-by-case basis is a start, but full comprehensive reform must be the end.

A better system would emphasize the skills our economy needs. And it would make current labor market conditions a factor in setting immigration numbers (amazingly, not now done). Fixing our immigration program is a mighty task, but the Obama administration has already done the hardest part.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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