Legislative Reforms Needed to Restore Order and Control a Broken System
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will get an earful this week about why it’s time for Congress to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department Homeland Security, will likely be making this case when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, December 10th.
Napolitano, who in a major speech last month outlined the aggressive steps her agency had taken to enforce current immigration laws and secure the U.S./Mexico border – including increasing the ranks of the border patrol to more than 20,000 officers, building more than 600 miles of fencing along the border, stepping up interior enforcement and going after employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers – is expected to encourage lawmakers to move forward with broader legislative reforms that will enhance those efforts.
“The more work we do, the more it becomes clear that the laws themselves need to be reformed,” Napolitano said last month, acknowledging that the progress made so far will be undermined if the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. is not resolved. “If you really want to deal with immigration it is best to take up the whole problem.”
These sentiments are shared by immigration, national security and law enforcement experts who today urged Congress to act. They include James W. Ziglar, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Stewart Verdery, former Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy at DHS. Like Sec. Napolitano, they understand that reforming the immigration system is not contradictory to enforcing immigration laws. Still, continuing the same failed enforcement strategies of the past is counterproductive without legislative reform. It will not restore control and order to the broken immigration system.
What we have now is simply not working, as two reports released last week revealed. The reports outlined systemic problems with the federal immigration detention system, among them unwarranted detentions of immigrants – including legal immigrants – who qualify for release on bond, arbitrary and frequent transfers within the detention system, and even expedited deportations. Meanwhile U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continued to round up undocumented workers by raiding businesses suspected of employing them and conducting so-called forensic audits, or inspections, of employment records of some 1,000 businesses around the country.
Although they generate publicity, these piecemeal enforcement efforts will do little to resolve the nation’s systemic immigration problems. Even the inspector general of the DHS, the agency charged with implementing the immigration laws, concluded that current detention practices lead to loss of access to lawyers for the detainees, additional time in detention and errors, and delays and confusions for detainees and the immigrants courts.
The inspector general’s report is a strong indication that increased detention and deportations, like raids and civil inspections, are not going to put a significant dent in reducing the 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the U.S. and consider this country home. The idea of rounding up, detaining and deporting millions of people, as some have called for, is neither practical nor realistic. The vast majority of Americans recognize this and that’s why they want a solution that works now and in the future, not schizophrenic enforcement policies.
Unless Congress acts, things will likely get worse, not better. Lawmakers should listen to Sec. Napolitano, and others who have direct experience with the failings of the current system, and enact comprehensive immigration reform that will significantly reduce illegal immigration and restore respect for the rule of law by replacing the chaos and exploitation of illegal immigration with the control and regulation of an orderly system.