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KRAUTHAMMER: Immigration reform: Fence first, then amnesty

  • This artwork by Mark Weber relates to problems on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Immigration reform is coming. Let's get it right. What counts as getting it wrong? The 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan. It granted amnesty to the then 3 million illegal immigrants and promised border enforcement.

Amnesty came. Enforcement never did. Reagan was swindled.

Americans are a generous people. They don't want 11 million souls living in fear among them. They would willingly, indeed overwhelmingly, support amnesty — as long as it is the last. They don't want another Simpson-Mazzoli, another bait-and-switch that lets in another 11 million illegal immigrants — and brings us back where we began.

There is an obvious solution: enforcement first. Hence the attraction of the bipartisan Senate deal reached by the Gang of Eight, led by Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republicans John McCain and Marco Rubio. It is said to feature border enforcement first, then legalization.

Not quite.

It is true that only after some commission deems the border under control do illegal immigrants become eligible for green cards and, ultimately, citizenship. But this is misleading because on the day the president signs the reform — long before enforcement even begins — the 11 million are immediately subject to instant legalization.

It is cleverly called "probationary" legal status. But the adjective is meaningless. It grants the right to live and work here openly. Once granted, it will never be revoked.

Consider: Imagine that the border-control commission reports at some point that the border is not yet secure. Do you think for a moment that the 11 million will have their "probationary" legalization revoked? These are people who, in good faith, would have come out of the shadows, registered with the feds and disclosed their domicile and place of work. Do you think the authorities will have them fired, arrested and deported? Inconceivable.

"Probationary" in this context means, in reality, "forever." (Unless, of course, you commit some crime.) It means they can stay and work here freely for the rest of their lives.

True, they must await the "enforcement trigger" before they can apply for green cards. But they already have the functional equivalent of a green card. They got that on Day One. That matters more than anything to those living here illegally: the right to continue living here without fear. Forever. That's the very essence of amnesty.


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