The new Congress has come ready with some fresh ideas for immigration reform. Freshman Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. said in a recent interview, “We have to start with a secure border, we have to start with a guest worker program.” Gardner is right to link border security with a guest worker visa program. The former cannot be achieved without the latter.
Gardner’s comments are an underappreciated bit of common sense in an immigration debate stubbornly stuck between the polar opposite demands for nearly unlimited border security from the populist Right and unconditional amnesty from the progressive Left. Neither position will stop illegal immigration.
Doubling down on enforcement by itself won’t work. Since 1992, there has been an almost 500 percent
increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and patrol hours spent along the Southwest border. In 2014, apprehensions — a proxy measure of the number of illegal crossers — were little more than a fourth of their 2000 peak of 1.6 million. Last year’s apprehensions were almost 100,000 fewer than they were forty years ago in 1974.
Texas Republican Rep. Mike McCaul’s new Secure Our Borders First Act would amass dubious technologies at the border — fences and other security gimmicks that will have little impact on an already trivial flow of unlawful immigrants. Instead of beefing up security, a guest worker visa program could decrease illegal immigration even further. History provides a prime example.
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