Linda Chavez
"Enforcement first" has become the mantra of conservatives opposed to comprehensive immigration. However, what opponents refuse to recognize is that illegal immigration is under better control today than at any point in the last half century. Last year, net immigration from Mexico was zero -- as many immigrants (legal and illegal) left the United States as came here. The flow of illegal immigrants has plummeted in the last few years -- down to the lowest level since the 1970s. What's more, the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration since the Great Depression - including 450,000 last year.

We now spend more -- nearly $18 billion dollars -- on border enforcement than we do on all other federal policing programs combined. We have built 649 miles of border fencing and vehicle barriers (of the 652 miles mandated in the 2006 Security Fence Act). Plus we have put into place high-tech surveillance that was unthinkable in past, when proportionally many more illegal immigrants crossed our borders from Mexico. Before passage of the Bracero Program, a temporary visa system for agricultural workers in the post-World War II era, about a million illegal immigrants came into the U.S. This is the equivalent of 2 million illegal immigrants when adjusted for current population size.

The border with Mexico is more secure than it has ever been. So why not declare victory and move forward in reforming outdated laws that are largely unenforceable?

The most contentious issue facing lawmakers now is what to do about the 11 million illegal immigrants who currently reside in the U.S. Some Republicans, most prominently Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, who outlined a bipartisan plan with four Democrats this week, want to give legal status to those illegal immigrants so that they can remain here and work. While the specifics of legislation have yet to be ironed out, the proposal would require illegal immigrants to pay substantial fines, undergo background checks to prove they have not broken other laws and pay any back taxes owed. This is hardly "amnesty" as critics complain; it is applying a proportionate penalty for the commission of a civil offense.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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