Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Meet Sandra and Isaac (not their real names). Both hold advanced degrees and are in the United States on H-1B work permits, temporary workers’ visas which allow them to stay here as long as they are employed by a company that cannot find qualified Americans for their jobs. They pay income and social security taxes; they do not collect welfare or take advantage of other entitlement programs.

Sandra and Isaac, like many members of my church, are highly educated, law-abiding West Africans who would love to become Americans citizens or at least permanent legal residents. Unfortunately, their Green Card applications have been mired in decades of red tape. Yet a bill being debated in Congress right now would put 11 million people who entered the country illegally (or overstayed their initial visas illegally) on a “path to citizenship” that would add to Sandra and Isaac’s bureaucratic nightmare.

The proposed “reforms” being debated in Congress right now avoid the word “amnesty,” but would ultimately legalize over ten million illegal immigrants in exchange for a promise to increase border security. You do not have to be a policy expert to see that there are several problems with this approach. I will offer a partial list of my own concerns:

1. We’ve tried this before and it didn’t work. Our country actually enacted a similar “path to citizenship” under President Reagan. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act legalized over three million illegal immigrants with the promise that further entrance of illegals would be halted or at least significantly reduced. Instead, the number of people living here illegally has more than doubled since the passage of the law. Its original sponsors, Alan Simpson and Romano Mazzoli, have admitted that the law did not achieve its intended ends.

2. Allowing unlimited numbers of low-wage workers into the country will continue to undercut the wages and job prospects of the poorest Americans. It is not upper level managers or CEO’s who lose their jobs when we receive ten million low-wage laborers over our borders. Studies consistently demonstrate that black employment rises in response to enforcement of immigration law. While unemployment nationwide hovers around 8%, black unemployment remains 13.2%. Might employers find a way to hire some of those blacks if we decided to enforce our immigration laws instead of loosening them?

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.