Border Enforcement without Reform is Doomed to Fail

The news media are playing up President Bush’s proposal, to be unveiled in an Oval Office speech tonight, to send National Guard troops to stop illegal immigration across our 2,000-mile border with Mexico. The real news is that the president and the Senate are about to work together to pass real immigration reform, including a new temporary worker program and a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented workers already here. The Cato Institute laid out the intellectual argument for such an approach in two major studies, Willing Workers and Backfire at the Border.

The large majority of workers here illegally have come for the same reasons immigrants have come to our shores throughout our history, to build a better future for themselves and their families–and to help us build a stronger U.S. economy in the process. Our economy continues to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs each year for low-skilled workers, while the supply of native-born Americans willing to fill those jobs continues to shrink. The American workforce is getting older and better educated. Yet our immigration system has no legal channel for a peaceful, hardworking person from Mexico or other countries to enter our country legally to fill those jobs.

Two decades of ramped-up enforcement have failed to fix the problem. We’ve increased spending on border enforcement 10-fold, we’ve built walls for miles into the desert, and we’ve raided hundreds of U.S. business from coast to coast. Yet the number and inflow of illegal workers just keeps growing. We need an immigration system that reflects the realities of American society and the American economy. A program to legalize millions of workers would allow the U.S. government to concentrate its enforcement on the real criminals and terrorists trying to sneak into our country.

It’s good news that President Bush and a majority of Senators seem to understand that enforcement without reform is doomed to fail.