What Happens If Immigration Reform Fails?

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

House Speaker John Boehner outside the White House last week

House Republicans' latest excuse for not passing immigration reform—that the congressional calendar is too stuffed with shutdowns and Syria dilemmas—is pretty silly. First, the debt ceiling hasn’t dropped into the fall session unceremoniously from the sky—this is an annual responsibility they knew would return since the last hellish time they raised our borrowing limit. Second, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the House from passing immigration reform ASAP. In a single day, Republican legislators could bring the Senate immigration bill for a floor vote in the House, where conventional wisdom says it has the votes to pass. "This is no longer a debate about policy. We've had ten years of debate," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. "Every element of the policy discussion has been held and held repeatedly."

It's all about the politics, which for immigration means it's all about the stubborn, second-grader antics of Republican leaders. The big question is whether Speaker John Boehner is willing to risk his speakership by moving forward on immigration reform—despite staunch opposition from conservative members of his caucus, who fear retaliation from the Tea Party wing of the Republican base. With the mid-term elections coming up in 14 months, this year—and next year—may be a bust. National politics—not local, district level politics—is the magic dust that gets immigration reform passed. Every immigration-reform bill that's ever made it to the law books has sailed into Congress in advance of a presidential-election year. Advocates may have to wait until 2016 if the House conveniently forgets the current bill this fall.

These supporters are reluctant to concede defeat—they point out that pressure from the broad coalition of interests, including business and faith groups, is not going away, and that lack of reform is causing daily harm. "There's active pain raining down on immigrant communities and families—that's a powerful motivator," says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Over the August recess, dozens of immigrant-advocacy groups banded together under the name Alliance for Citizenship to push for immigration reform at town halls and through marches and rallies. But the crisis in Syria seems to have dampened some of the enthusiasm for reform—or at least put legislators' focus elsewhere.

What happens if immigration reform fails? The first thing to consider is whether the bill fails completely, or whether Democrats try to break off and pass pieces of the legislation separately. This is what happened after the failed 2007-2008 push for reform, when Democrats introduced the DREAM Act—which would have legalized undocumented immigrants (often referred to as "Dreamers") brought to the United States as children—in the Senate, where it failed to overcome a filibuster. Chishti says Democrats are less likely to propose such a deal. It would be an ideal outcome for Republicans: They could point to their effort to provide relief for a select group of the most vulnerable immigrants and chastise Democrats for insisting on a larger deal that helps them lock down the Latino vote. "If the Republicans decide to do that, it will be a curve ball which Democrats will have difficulty dealing with," Chishti says.

If House Republicans don't muster up the votes to pass a standalone bill, the blame for the failure of immigration reform lies squarely with them: The Democrats in the Senate, after all, passed a broad, bipartisan bill, and the Republicans in the House passed nothing despite having significant lead-time.


The lasting, nonpolitical effect of failing to pass immigration reform will be on the lives of immigrants. We know which group this will hurt most: the estimated 11 million undocumented living in the country who can't get driver's licenses, pursue higher education, get home loans, or proceed through the other channels of self-advancement that have made America a destination for the disadvantaged. Cities and municipalities with large immigrant populations—New York, Miami, Los Angeles—can't integrate them effectively into the fabric of their communities. States frustrated with inaction at the federal level will continue to pass their own measures seeking to address the problem; we should prepare ourselves for another round of states passing legislation like Arizona's SB 1070, a harsh anti-immigration measure that inspired a number of copycat bills in five other states. The Obama administration's record ramp-up in deportations will continue unabated, splitting up families and uprooting immigrants who have lived in their communities for decades.

While the issue of what to do with the 11 million undocumented tends to suck up most of the political oxygen around immigration reform, the most significant cost may come from failing to reform the legal migration system. As it stands, our immigration system blunts our competitive economic edge: It allocates an insufficient number of visas for high-skilled workers, does not provide enough low-skilled workers to meet the industry demand, and penalizes employers who try to work around the shortage by hiring undocumented people. Ultimately, it is the dysfunction of the legal system that has led to our large undocumented population. If Republicans are serious about not wanting to "be in the same boat" in 20 years—a position they've stressed over the course of the immigration debate—the best way they can ensure this is not to further feed our bloated enforcement capabilities, but to address the root of the problem.

It is hard to gauge the chances for passing an immigration bill before the current congressional calendar runs out in December, but if it fails, it is not a matter of the agenda being too full; it is entirely in the House leadership's hands, which must decide between appeasing the radicals among its base and the long-term viability of the party. One thing is clear, though: Neither the pressure from the broad coalition that supports reform is going away, nor is the need for reform. "The people who thought that this would take care of itself by attrition—the 'self-deportation' folks—that's not happening," Chishti says. "We've seen no evidence that because of impatience with Washington, people are going home."


Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#10: Greatly increases legal immigration: Over the past decade the average total rate of immigration via green cards has been steady at a little over 1.1 million a year. As a result the Washington post reports that the percent of immigrants in the american population (13.8%) is now the highest ever recorded. It even exceeds the peak level reached during the great European migration of the 1800's (see below). A recent Gallup poll of all voters indicates that only 23% would favor increasing immigration above present levels. Thus more then 3 out of 4 voters favor either reducing immigration or else keeping it constant. Despite this overwhelming public sentiment, the sponsors of the senate bill make no effort to cap immigration. Instead, The CBO reports that all the new visas and policy choices in the bill will actually cause a doubling of legal immigration. How can this be a good thing for american workers when 12 million are unemployed and more then 8 million more are stuck in unsatisfactory part time jobs? How can it be good when, in real terms after inflation, the median wage of an american worker is lower today than it was back in 1968! Wages have stagnated for 45 years and yet the authors of the Senate immigration bill act like we have a labor shortage. Why else would we need to double legal immigration? This is total insanity!

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill

#12: Decreases Job Availability for Citizens: Forget the distraction of amnesty and illegal immigrants; Currently, the workforce participation rate has been falling by 0.5% per year since 2008. Not counting those who have given up, 12 million of our countrymen are unemployed and actively looking for work and 8 million more are trying to move from part time to full time employment. Meanwhile less than 2.3 million new jobs have been added to the our economy in the last 12 months (and most of these were part time). The intense competition for the available jobs is exacerbated because, under current law, legal immigration is running at a rate of 1.1 million annually. If we assume (conservatively) that 50% of new immigrants get jobs, this means that 25% of the 2.3 million new jobs were taken by immigrants and only 75% remained for americans. Even if the american workforce stopped growing, at this rate it would take more then 14 years to produce enough jobs for all those who currently need work. Now, in the middle of this intensely competitive job market, the Gang of eight comes along and proposes to double the annual rate of immigration to about 2.2 million (this is not a joke). The senate gang also proposes to quadruple the number of temporary work visas (i.e. visas similar to the current H1a's and H1b's). As a result, unless there is a miraculous increase in the job creation rate, the percentage of new jobs available for americans will drop from 75% to below 50%. Who benefits from this?

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#8: The Bill rewards criminality: The median income in the united states exceeds the median income in Mexico by about $30,000/yr. This is the motivating gain that drives people to commit acts of illegal migration. Logically, to act as a meaningful deterrent, the penalty imposed on illegal migrants must negate the motivating gain. Contrary to this common sense principal, the senate bill offers migrants a full pardon and legal status upon payment of only $500. Even this small fine can be waved by the secretary of DHS. Clearly therefore, the senate bill is no more than a full amnesty and the proposed restitution is nothing but a symbolic fig leaf that fools nobody. To escape classification as an Amnesty, the fine under the senate bill should be increased to approximately $50,000 and furthermore payment in full should be mandatory. In hardship cases the Secretary of DHS could offer migrants a loan for the amount of their fine. Payments on this obligation could be collected by mandatory payroll deduction, much as with the treatment of delinquent student loans.

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#7: Endangers Our Communities: Under the Senate immigration bill, the Secretary of DHS is provided with broad authority to give provisional legal status even to aliens who have multiple arrests for serious criminal conduct. This includes persons with gang affiliations, felony arrests, and multiple misdemeanor convictions. The bill also allows the Secretary to waive background checks completely. The bill also allows criminal immigrants to keep legal status even after committing new criminal offenses. Finally, current law requires certain dangerous immigrants who are in the process of being deported to be detained in order to protect the American people. However, the Senate bill undermines this commonsense requirement and instead allows these criminal aliens to be released back onto our streets, with only light parole supervision.

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#4: The Executive gets a Carte Blanche: Under the Senate bill, wherever enforcement is mentioned, there is a waiver authority delegated to the Secretary of DHS. The senate bill even gives the secretary power to designate "sanctuaries" where no enforcement activity of any kind can take place. The bill even provides for a nationwide enforcement "holiday" of 2.5 years. Essentially this executive "carte blanch" means that the whole of our immigration enforcement effort would operate at the whim of the president and of his political appointees. We have already seen during the last election, that the president was willing to suspend deportation of certain young immigrants and even give them work permits. This was in response to pressure from Latino voters. Continuation of this lawless situation throws everything about the senate immigration bill into doubt. What good is the proposed E-verify system, if the president can simply refuse to prosecute employers who fail to use this system?

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#5: Won’t End Illegal Immigration: Despite all the money being spent to secure our porous borders, the Congressional Budget Office has said that the senate's immigration bill will only reduce illegal immigration by one-third to one-half. This is mainly because too much is spent at the border and not enough resources are allocated to E-verify and enforcement against employers who hire illegals. If we are going to grant a pardon to the current batch of illegals and give then work permits, then the continuation of illegal immigration means we will shortly be right back in the same hole we are currently in. Are we doing to give the next crop of illegals a amnesty also? And the next, and the next after that? At what point do we finally decide to have some integrity and enforce the law?

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#2: Legalization Before Border Security: Six months from the senate bill’s enactment, the Secretary of Homeland Security must submit a border security plan. Upon mere submission of this plan, unlawful immigrants will begin receiving what is called “registered provisional status (RPI). This status is very valuable and includes a full and irrevocable pardon of all past offenses against the united states, legal status to live and travel freely and also a work permit for any sort of employment including in law enforcement and the legal system. These benefits are granted by the DHS, BEFORE the border security plan is deployed, BEFORE the border fence and electronic verification system have been implemented, BEFORE the exit system is being used, and BEFORE the 38,405 Border Patrol agents have been deployed on the Southwest border. This means that nothing has to be actually completed and accomplished before the illegals are given irrevocable amnesty. Essentially, the deal is cleverly structured so that the amnesty is done for sure, but all the promises about border security and workplace enforcement are subject to the whim and good intensions of president Obama (or whatever other president comes after him). After the debacle of the 1986 amnesty bill are we really going to let ourselves get suckered a second time?

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#3: Misallocation of Resources: Under the Schumer-Hoeven-Corker Amendment, the so-called “border surge” amendment, approximately 38,405 Border Patrol agents will be deployed, maintained, and stationed along the Southwest border. Billions are appropriated to back up this amendment. However, all the front line ICE agents who have looked at the senate plan, agree that it is total overkill and that manpower on the border is not lacking. What we need at the border is a better fence and more electronic surveillance cameras, motion sensors and drones. None of these one-time capital investments is very expensive. If we have more money, it should go to implement and beef up the entry/exit visa system and also to implement e-verify and the interior enforcement system. Instead of more border agents, what we need are more officers to audit employers and to make sure those who hire illegals are severely punished. The "border surge" of the senate bill is just a big show that is only meant to impress gullible voters who don't understand what is really needed to maintain an honest labor market. What is needed is an "interior enforcement surge"

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#6: Unfair to Legal Immigrants: The Senate bill creates an entirely new legal mechanism to help illegal immigrants obtain residency and citizenship. On initial application, the illegals will get a pardon for their past crimes, a work permit and legal residency. In exchange they must pay a $500 fine, pay any outstanding tax leans, and satisfy a criminal background check. Next, after ten years, if they decide they want a regular green card and citizenship, they can chose to apply under a special quota available only to them. The problem is that the great benefits of the special path are offered ONLY to illegal aliens. Others who were foolish enough to follow the immigration rules we have established are given nothing! Thus, under the senate bill, 4 million foreign nationals who have previously applied for green cards in the usual lawful manner, are still denied entry, denied the ability to work in the american market, denied family reunion, and forced to patiently wait in their home countries until their number is called. Millions more who have accepted H1A and H1B temporary visas, would like to convert their visa's and stay permanently, but are told that for them, the law is still the law. How is it morally possible to give the illegal immigrants, who jumped the waiting line and broke the law, this incredible special deal, a deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifetime income and government benefits, without making the same offer available to millions whose only mistake was to play by the rules? Every one of the people waiting for legal immigration would gladly pay $500 to gain a visa for immediate admission, long term legal status, and a permanent work permit. This whole idea of a special deal for lawbreakers while cheating the people who play by the rules, is immoral and un-american.

Problems With the Senate (Gang of 8) Immigration Bill
#9: Contains Slush Fund for Liberal Activist Groups: Under the Senate bill, new grant programs are created that could provide $150 million dollars to liberal activist groups like La Raza, Casa de Maryland, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. These taxpayer-funded grants are provided to organizations – without any audit or oversight provisions – in order to promote the new special pathway to citizenship though public information campaigns, to help unlawful immigrants apply for new immigration benefits, and to provide any other assistance considered useful to unlawful immigrants who apply for amnesty.

"Should Americans pick crops? George says no,
'Cause no one but a Mexican would stoop so low,
And after all, even in Egypt, the Pharaohs
Had to import Hebrew braceros!"
-- lines from Tom Lehrer's 1965 satirical song about George Murphy, actor-Senator

The "money trust" special interests in America want two things out of Washington:
first, that illegal immigrants can be hired at starvation wages to work for them,
and second, that those immigrants ALWAYS have to worry about being deported, so they cannot complain about those starvation wages.

So don't think Republican lawmakers REALLY want to stop illegal immigrants, or semi-legal immigrants on special programs like H1-B, from COMING; they just want to persecute the WORKERS so that they cannot complain about mistreatment and abuse, even when it verges on slavery, by putting "show" restrictions in place; but not actually hold employers accountable except with wrist-slap fines and the minor inconvenience of recruiting another batch of illegal immigrants. And meanwhile, the legal "limbo" of illegal immigrants sets a precedent to RETURN to such unconscionable conditions for LEGAL immigrants and CITIZENS, in terms of (lack of) labor rights, like the 1870's through 1920's.

The proposed legislation, in effect, erases our borders and allows an unlimited number of people at all skill levels to come here and, by accepting third-world wages, salaries, and working conditions displace Americans, who are already suffering from unemployment and under-employment. The primary beneficiaries would be employers of all kinds, particularly the wealthy. The losers would be the poorest Americans, but also middle class people such as engineers, nurses, computer programmers.

For more detailed arguments, see

I pray for the good and success of this country that this amnesty bill fails.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)