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OPINION

Republicans Strike a Blow Against Illegal Immigration

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File

Today, House Republicans will vote on a sweeping bill that, if enacted, would largely end the illegal immigration crisis. 

Of course, the legislation -- dubbed H.R. 2 -- stands little chance of getting past the Democrat-controlled Senate or President Biden's veto pen. 

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But it's still worth praising, because it contains the most ambitious immigration reforms ever voted on by either chamber of Congress. American voters elected a Republican House majority, in large part, to solve the worst border crisis in our nation's history. Lawmakers are now answering that call. 

The timing of the vote is no accident. Today, the Biden administration will end the Title 42 restrictions that gave border agents the authority to quickly expel illegal migrants. As a result, border crossings -- which are currently hovering near record levels of roughly 7,000 per day -- are expected to double to 13,000 per day. That'd easily make 2023 the worst year for illegal immigration, ever. Last year, law enforcement officials encountered nearly 2.4 million illegal immigrants at the border, blowing past 2021's record-setting total of 1.6 million.

H.R. 2, also known as the Secure the Border Act, includes a laundry list of important reforms.

For starters, it would fix our broken asylum system. Right now, there are nearly 2.2 million cases pending in immigration courts, nearly double the 1.3 million that were pending in fiscal 2020, the last full fiscal year before the Biden administration took over. 

The number has surged, in large part, because it's easy for economic migrants to lie about facing persecution in their home countries and then work for years in the United States while their cases are adjudicated. From 2014 to 2019, just 15% of migrants who passed a "credible fear" screening -- a low bar, but one that nevertheless gives them temporary protection from deportation -- were ultimately granted asylum, according to a Department of Homeland Security review of completed cases. 

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The bill would reduce asylum fraud by raising the credible fear standard and requiring migrants to show that it's "more likely than not" a judge will find they truly merit asylum. Currently, migrants only need to show that there's a "significant possibility" that they'd win asylum. 

The bill would also make migrants ineligible for asylum if they've passed through another safe country without applying there, or if they've tried to sneak across the border illegally and then retroactively claim asylum when caught, instead of appearing at designated ports of entry. And it'd place limits on migrants' ability to obtain legal work permits while waiting for their day in court -- thus reducing the jobs magnet that attracts so many migrants in the first place.

The bill would further discourage illegal immigration by requiring the Department of Homeland Security to either detain asylum petitioners in the United States, or have them wait south of the border for their day in court. It'd deter human trafficking by allowing law enforcement to detain migrant children with their parents -- rather than being forced to release them, often to potential abusers -- or repatriate them to their countries, when appropriate.

The bill increases criminal and civil penalties for foreigners who overstay their visas -- an important deterrent, given the fact that a majority of illegal immigrants actually came to the country legally on temporary visas, but never left when they were supposed to. And it'd severely limit the Biden administration's ability to "parole" illegal immigrants en masse and grant them work permits.

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Perhaps most importantly, the bill would require employers to check the legal status of new hires through the free, easy-to-use E-Verify system. By making it much harder for illegal immigrants to find jobs, the reform would deter would-be migrants from ever journeying to the United States. Without the allure of a job that pays many times what they could earn in their home countries, they'd no longer have any incentive to commit asylum fraud, deliberately overstay visas, or smuggle children across the border with the help of cartels.

Taken together, the reforms in the Secure the Border Act would strike a heavy blow against illegal immigration. The American people can only hope that the House passes it as planned -- and that, someday soon, there will be a Senate and White House that would turn these good ideas into law.

Chris Chmielenski is vice president and deputy director of NumbersUSA.

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