Amnesty V Border Security ~ What is in the Bill? Part 1

Immigration pix 1

What don’t we understand about the word ILLEGAL?  Please everyone go look it up in the dictionary.

More than any other nation in history, the United States has welcomed immigrants in search of a better life. Over the past several decades, however, immigration policy has become confused, unfocused, and dysfunctional. Millions of people who entered the U.S. illegally belie the core principle of the rule of law and belittle the legal naturalization process, while continued large-scale immigration without effective assimilation threatens social cohesion and America’s civic culture and common identity. This is especially true when immigrants are assimilated into the welfare state rather than into a society of opportunity. American citizens, as well as current and future immigrants, deserve better. In April 2013, the Senate introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. But, instead of offering meaningful reform, the act fails to address the intricacies of America’s immigration challenges by trying to solve everything in one colossal bill; it also imposes exorbitant costs and is filled with political trade-offs and misguided policies. In this Backgrounder, the Heritage Foundation Immigration and Border Security Reform Task Force details the 10 most critical reasons why Congress should reject the Senate’s flawed approach, and lays out steps for true immigration reform.

Millions of people who broke U.S. law to live in America make a mockery of the legal naturalization process. Continued large-scale illegal immigration without effective assimilation threatens social cohesion and America’s civic culture and common identity.

1. Amnesty

According to the most recent numbers published by the Department of Homeland Security, there were an estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States in January 2011. While the majority are believed to have crossed the U.S. border illegally, approximately 40 percent of illegal immigrants overstayed the terms of their legal visa. Regardless, S. 744 would create a framework for providing amnesty to the majority of these individuals.

Amnesty comes in many forms, but in all of its variations it discourages respect for the law, treats law-breaking aliens better than law-following aliens, and encourages future unlawful immigration into the United States. The U.S. saw these facts ring true back in the 1980s when the United States last granted a mass amnesty.

In legislation remarkably similar to S. 744, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted unlawful immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1982 “temporary resident status.” Aliens with this status were authorized for travel and employment. Eighteen months after receiving temporary legal resident status an individual could become a legal permanent resident (LPR). After five years he could then become a citizen.

When the bill passed, its proponents argued that the bill’s amnesty provisions would be a one-time thing. Specifically, the House committee originating the legislation said that “a one-time legalization program is a necessary part of an effective enforcement program.”  The chief architects of the legislation argued that the enforcement and security provisions contained within the bill, including border security and stepped-up enforcement of existing immigration and labor laws, would ensure that illegal immigration would not be a problem in the future. Since that time, however, the unlawful immigrant population in the United States has nearly quadrupled.

Now, more than two decades later, leaders in Congress are once again proposing amnesty. Specifically, S. 744 would:

  • Create a “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status that would grant travel and work authorization similar to the “temporary resident status” of 1986. RPI status would be initially valid for six years and could be renewed indefinitely.
  • Allow those granted RPI status to adjust their status to “legal permanent resident” once the bill’s border security provisions are met. So too, an individual must be able to show that he was “regularly employed” while an RPI, demonstrate that he is not likely to become a public charge (through an average income or resources not less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level), and pursue government-assisted English language and civics education.
  • Streamline the naturalization process for unlawful immigrants by stipulating that an alien LPR who has been eligible for work authorization for no fewer than 10 years before gaining that LPR status may be naturalized after three years as an LPR.Current law requires that applicants for naturalization have resided in the U.S. as LPRs for five years.  Now, tell me how are they going to know these things.. People lie as you know.

Making matters worse, the draft law states that anyone who was present in the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011, would qualify for amnesty, creating massive opportunity for fraud, since there is no proof required that applicants have been in the U.S. several years.  See what did I say..

At the same time, the bill also contains a version of the DREAM Act, which would grant amnesty to those illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were under the age of 16. This version would be more inclusive than previous bills, since it sets no upper age limit for DREAM Act recipients. The bill also creates a special “blue-card” program that would grant work authorization and lawful status to unlawful agricultural workers. After five years, DREAM Act–eligible immigrants would be granted citizenship and those with blue-card status would be eligible to become legal permanent residents.

To allow an amnesty would teach precisely the wrong lesson to America’s lawful immigrants and the culture at large. The message of amnesty is: When a group of people who have violated the law grows too big to prosecute, the U.S. will simply change the law to accommodate them. Even more, the U.S. will allow them to stay in the country until, ultimately, they become permanent residents or even citizens. A massive pardon of intentional violation of law also undermines the rule of law, particularly since it would be the second blanket amnesty in about a quarter century.

Amnesty is also deeply unfair to all those who waded through the United States’ complex and convoluted immigration system to come and remain here legally. The same is true for the approximately 4.4 million individuals who at this very moment are waiting in line to come to the United States, some of whom have been waiting for more than two decades.

2. Border Security “Triggers”

In 1986, Congress promised the American people enhanced border security in exchange for amnesty. This improved security largely never came to fruition. That worked didn’t it?  So I guess we should try it again because like I said it worked so well before.

This time around, S. 744’s authors included requirements that the Secretary of Homeland Security certify certain “border triggers” before additional steps in the legalization process can proceed. Specifically, the bill requires that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commence the implementation of a Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy and a Southern Border Fencing Strategy before the Secretary can begin processing applications for RPI status. The bill also requires that the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy is substantially deployed and operational, and that the Southern Border Fencing Strategy is implemented and substantially completed in order for those with RPI status to be adjusted to LPRs. 

You believe this one.. I have a bridge to sell you.

While these requirements may sound good on paper, in reality, the DHS has been trying unsuccessfully to define credible metrics for border security since 2004. Even if it had effective triggers, they do not guarantee a secure border. Border-crossing conditions constantly change. Thus, even if the goal is achieved, there is no guarantee it will stay that way.

The U.S. should do more to secure its borders, but using border security as a political tool to pass a bloated comprehensive bill is simply wrong.

Further, the Secretary of Homeland Security has repeatedly stated that U.S. borders “have never been stronger.” So too, in the past five years, the White House has never asked for additional border security funding. Yet, this bill lavishes billions of additional spending on the DHS with no clear requirements on how the money is to be spent. At least $2 billion could legitimately be labeled the Secretary’s slush fund. Added to this is the fact that the Secretary of Homeland Security can waive the final border security requirements where litigation, a disaster, or an act of God has prevented their implementation; implementation has been declared unconstitutional; or 10 years have passed since the bill was enacted. One may be left with serious doubts about whether the border security requirements of S. 744 will actually be met.

3. Cost to Taxpayers

In addition to concerns of rule of law and fairness, amnesty will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. This is because some taxpayers contribute more in taxes than they receive in government benefits, while others consume more than they contribute. Most unlawful immigrants fall into this second category of net tax consumers. Even now unlawful immigrant households consume $14,387 more in benefits than they pay in taxes on average. Current unlawful immigrants receive public education for their children and services at the state and local levels, such as policing, fire protection, road use, and sewer maintenance. Illegal immigrants on average do not pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of these services. In addition, roughly half of illegal immigrants have minor children who were born in the U.S. These children are eligible for nearly all federal means-tested welfare programs including food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The total cost of means-tested welfare to these children comes to around $17 billion per year. Under current law, illegal immigrant households receive about $2.40 in government benefits for every $1.00 paid in taxes. The overall cost to taxpayers (total benefits minus total taxes) is $54 billion per year.

S. 744 would provide millions of these immigrants with amnesty, eventually entitling them to extensive new benefits. Indeed, a recent Heritage study indicates that the net cost of amnesty for all unlawful immigrants would be at least $6.3 trillion. These costs must be paid by current taxpayers, either by increased taxes or reduced benefits. While S. 744 does not grant every unlawful immigrant amnesty, it would grant it to the vast majority, leading to trillions in new costs.

The Senate bill is designed to conceal costs from taxpayers by delaying amnesty recipients’ access to most government benefits for the first decade after the bill’s enactment.

Specifically, S. 744 would immediately provide RPIs with access to cash welfare benefits through the refundable earned income tax credit (EITC) and related additional child tax credits (ACTC). The cost of these welfare benefits to the taxpayer would be around $10 billion per year. While RPIs would pay more in taxes after amnesty as their wages increased and they began to work more on the books, these increased tax payments would be largely offset by the new EITC and ACTC welfare payments. Overall, Heritage estimates that amnesty would continue to cost taxpayers over $50 billion per year (total benefits minus taxes) for the first 10 to 13 years after the bill becomes law.

The situation gets worse. S. 744 is designed to conceal costs from taxpayers by delaying amnesty recipients’ access to most government benefits for the first decade after the bill’s enactment. About 13 years after passage, amnesty recipients would become eligible for over 80 federal means-tested welfare programs and Obamacare. Heritage estimates that when this happens the net fiscal cost (total benefits minus total taxes) of amnesty would rise to $106 billion per year. Amnesty recipient households would receive roughly three dollars in government benefits for each dollar in taxes paid.

S. 744 would also give most illegal immigrants access to future Social Security and Medicare benefits. The Heritage study estimated that once the amnesty recipients reach retirement age, the annual net cost to the taxpayers will reach $160 billion per year. Ultimately, amnesty recipients will be net tax consumers at every stage of their lives; the total benefits they receive will always exceed the taxes they pay.

The Senate bill also continues the problem of family-chain migration, which drives up the cost of federal, state, and local programs. While S. 744 does remove siblings as beneficiaries of family-based visas, it also classifies spouses and children of LPRs as immediate relatives entitled to family visas that are not subject to visa limits. With the majority of family-chain immigrants being predominantly low-skilled laborers, this provision would likely raise welfare costs and poverty levels. Additionally, as Heritage Fellow Robert Rector explains:

Once unlawful immigrant households were legalized, there would be an increased tendency for brothers, sisters, and cousins to migrate from abroad both lawfully and unlawfully to join their relatives. Thus, other things being equal, amnesty would likely increase future unlawful immigration, in turn increasing future fiscal costs.

At the same time, S. 744 does not require unlawful immigrants to file tax returns to pay back taxes before gaining legal status, contrary to claims by its proponents. Rather, the bill only requires those seeking RPI status to pay “all Federal income taxes assessed” by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This means, of course, they would have had to file their income tax returns while here illegally. The payment of back taxes has been a long-held requirement of immigration reform that members of the “Gang of Eight,” who wrote the bill, have often supported publicly. However, the bill itself gives the Treasury Department and IRS no guidance on how to calculate the tax liability of illegal immigrants that have not filed tax returns in all the years they were in the country illegally. Presumably many will fit into this category because they were working off the books for cash, and their employers provided them no income documentation and forwarded none to the Treasury Department. The bill also requires unlawful immigrants to pay only assessed federal retroactive income taxes, and says nothing of state and local taxes.

In the end, it is highly probable that Treasury would waive the back taxes requirement for those illegal immigrants without income documentation because of the difficulty of establishing their tax liability—especially with the considerable burden the IRS is already carrying due to enforcing the current tax code, implementing Obamacare, and determining why some of its employees wrongly targeted certain groups for extra and unnecessary scrutiny. Even worse, S. 744 may provide amnesty recipients with retroactive eligibility to the refundable EITC and ACTC. The value of unpaid retroactive EITC and ACTC payments roughly equals the value of unpaid federal income and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. This means that retroactive tax “collection” could be a net cost to the government.

Overall, unlawful immigrants are not likely to compensate current taxpayers by paying back taxes, and, in fact, they may end up collecting retroactive welfare payments. In the future, their taxes will not begin to cover the benefits they would receive after amnesty.

Definition of ILLEGAL

: not according to or authorized by law : unlawful, illicit; also : not sanctioned by official rules.


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