Only real reform will resolve crisis

This article appeared on Cato.org on October 25, 2005.
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The people of Arizona pay an unacceptable price every day forAmerica's dysfunctional immigration system. The disruptive flow ofhumanity across the Arizona desert reflects an immigration lawfundamentally out of step with the realities of American life.

Driving illegal immigration are two inexorable trends: TheAmerican economy continues to create opportunities forlower-skilled workers in such important Arizona industries astourism and construction, as well as in the retail, foodpreparation, agriculture and service sectors.

At the same time, the pool of Americans who i would be happy inthose jobs continues to shrink because we are getting older andbetter educated. Yet our immigration system offers no legal channelfor peaceful, hard-working Mexicans or others to enter our countryeven temporarily to fill those jobs.

Experience shows that enforcement alone without reform is doomedto fail. Since the federal government began its crackdown onillegal immigration in the 1980s, spending on the Border Patrol hasincreased tenfold and line-watch hours eightfold. For the firsttime in American history, we have raided and fined U.S. companiesthat knowingly hire illegal workers. We've built fences miles intothe desert.

Yet the problem just gets worse. Today, an estimated 11 millionimmigrants reside in the United States illegally (500,000 inArizona), with the total growing by 400,000 or more each year.

Unfortunately for Arizonans and immigrants alike, our policy hasyielded perverse and deadly consequences. Past crackdowns in urbanareas such as San Diego and El Paso have only diverted the flow ofpeople into the more remote desert and ranchland along theArizona-Mexico border.

According to Cato research, a worker crossing the borderillegally today is actually more likely to make it across withoutbeing apprehended, more likely to stay here once in, and morelikely to die in the attempt.

Indeed, the fiscal year that ended in September was thedeadliest on record, with 464 deaths recorded along theU.S.-Mexican border, more than half of those in Arizona. A motherwas recently found dead near Dateland with her dehydrated 3-year-old daughter curled next to her going into shock. Morgues andmakeshift refrigerator trucks are full of unidentified bodies. Morethan 3,500 people have died along the border in the past decade.How many more will die before we fix a broken system?

Practical immigration reform would allow workers to enter theUnited States temporarily to fill jobs for which too few Americansare interested. Those workers could enter in a safe, orderly, legalway through normal ports of entry, rather than sneaking across thedesert at night. Real reform would also legalize the millionsalready here, not by offering amnesty but through a registrationprocess that would include a fine and only temporary status. Iflegalized workers wanted to stay here permanently, they would needto apply separately and through normal channels.

Real immigration reform would dramatically cut the flow ofillegal workers through Arizona by opening a sufficient channel forlegal entry. Legal workers would be more likely to qualify forhealth insurance, obtain auto insurance and invest in theirlanguage and job skills. The increased fees and taxes they wouldpay could be used to offset related costs to Arizona's state andlocal governments.

We would be more secure as a nation because we would know whowas entering the country and who was already here. We would drainthe swamp of smuggling and document fraud. We could focus ourenforcement firepower on terrorists and other criminals rather thanon men and women who only want to work and help their families.

The people of Arizona are too savvy to believe that merelythrowing more money at border enforcement will solve this vexingproblem.