As a result of our open southern border and refusal to detain or remove a huge percentage of aliens we encounter, more than a million illegal immigrants will be ushered into the interior of the country this year.
And although that’s an alarming level of consequence-free illegal activity, the administration and Democrats in Congress have shrugged, as evidenced by the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that includes a pathway to citizenship for many.
The proposal is not a short-term political gamble, looking at the polls. Although only 28% of adults believe illegal immigration is “acceptable,” a whopping 73% of adults believe that illegal residents should be given a pathway to citizenship or legal residency. On its face, this sentiment is contradictory. If an illegal alien has done something unacceptable, as 72% of people believe, then why would so many reward it?
The data likely reflects the average person’s belief that, while wrong, illegal immigration “doesn’t affect me.” Our border should be secure, sure, and people should enter legally, sure, but once someone is here, what’s the harm—to me—with the opportunity to legalize?
But this short-term thinking has staggering consequences. Illegal immigration is an incentives game, as with most things in life. If the likely benefit exceeds the likely cost, illegal immigration will rise. By expanding the benefits of illegal immigration, our border will be (even more) unmanageable. Rampant illegal immigration inflicts serious harm, not only on Americans and their families, but the nation, migrants themselves, and the countries the migrants leave behind.
Security: In July, border agents encountered 6,450 illegal migrants per day outside the ports of entry. Border agents are saying they are overwhelmed with processing these migrants meaning the “got-aways have definitely gone up.” The number of got-aways could be in the tens of thousands per month, some of which are drug traffickers, terrorists and more. Four known terrorists were lazy enough to be caught earlier this year, and with the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, this number is not likely to decline. Moreover, once in the United States, terrorist groups make money through drug trafficking to finance their operations around the world.
Fairness: More than 13 million people applied for a “diversity visa” last year, including applicants and their families, for only 55,000 spots. The diversity visa, randomly awarded to applicants from countries not well represented in work-based or family-based visa categories, is one of many “legal permanent resident” visas, and the U.S. awards around 1 million of those visas per year. Reasonable people can debate whether that number is too low, or whether the line should be managed differently. But rewarding the lawbreakers? No country that considers itself a just place can honestly reward that.
Cost: Even subtracting the taxes they pay, the illegal immigrants already living in the United States are a $116 billion burden on the economy. As the number of illegal residents grows, so does the burden. While the average American struggles to afford childcare and drives an older car, her money flows to people who flouted our laws. She drives on potholed streets and one-lane bridges because those billions of government dollars are directed elsewhere. The financial effect on entry-level workers is even more stark. Unchecked low-skilled immigration reduces the wages of low-wage workers, in effect transferring their wealth to companies who get to hire cheaper labor.
Nationhood: It’s hard not to get emotional watching USA gold medalist wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock wrap herself in the American flag and declare, “I love representing the U.S.!” The USA is a special place, and we take care to maintain it. We have firm support for women’s rights, spectacular innovations, unparalleled universities, lively debates and so much more. Something so special that causes millions of people to flock here is the reason to preserve it. This cannot be done without some sense of where our nation starts and stops; who is in and who is out. Any “thing” worth preserving must be an identifiable thing.
We have an illegal immigration problem, but that problem is not that illegal immigration is insufficiently rewarded. The United States is a safe and prosperous nation, leading millions to arrive at our borders without the promise of citizenship. The only sustainable path to keeping our nation safe and prosperous, however, is to offer incentives to those who follow the rules.