A Further Perspective

Border Surge Stupidity

Is the Gang of Eight bill turning into the Obamacare of immigration?

By 6.25.13

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There is an understandable resistance to immigration reform among “fool me once” Americans who remember that Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty plan included strong border enforcement -- which was never implemented.

There is a reasonable argument that we need strong border security to prevent a flood of illegal aliens, including those who try to enter the country in the immediate future to get under the “amnesty” wire (though the current bill represents a much less easy path to permanent residency or citizenship than what Reagan signed into law, difficult enough that amnesty may not be a fair characterization).

Therefore, it was to be expected that in order to increase conservative support for immigration reform, proponents would suggest aggressive strengthening of the U.S.-Mexico border, including more fences, more Border Patrol agents, and more electronic tools such as drones.

And that’s exactly what they have done, with Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) proposing a border security “surge” amendment to the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill.

Unfortunately, with its spending and waivers and hiring of large numbers of new government employees, the “Gang of Two” amendment, which passed the US Senate on Monday afternoon with 15 Republicans voting to invoke cloture along with all 52 voting Democrats, moves the entire reform package one giant step closer to being the immigration version of Obamacare. This is not least because yet again Americans will likely see, at least in the Senate, a bill passed before we, or even those legislators who vote for it, find out what's in it.

According to Sen. Hoeven, the amendment contains five conditions to be met before currently illegal immigrants (other than “DREAMers”) may begin the process of converting from a new temporary legal status to permanent residency (also known as a Green Card):

  1. DHS must implement a $3.2 billion (initial annual cost) border security plan including high-tech tools such as “seismic imaging, infrared ground sensors, and unmanned aerial systems…” The Secretary of Homeland Security, along with the Secretary of Defense and the Comptroller of the Currency must certify that this system is operational.
  2. DHS must hire 20,000 additional Border Patrol agents on the border, roughly doubling the current number.
  3. DHS must build 700 additional miles of fencing rather than the 350 miles in the underlying bill.
  4. The Secretary of Homeland Security must certify that E-Verify has been fully implemented.
  5. An electronic entry/exit identification system must be in place at any airport or seaport where ICE officers are currently deployed.

But if there were a rational immigration reform measure that allowed market forces to determine the number of legal guest workers in the United States, another $25-$30 billion (which used to be a lot of money and which is certain to be an enormous underestimate) spent by taxpayers over the next decade would be unnecessary.

In other words, saying we need massive additional border enforcement is a tacit admission that the reform bill as currently proposed will do approximately nothing to solve our nation’s very real immigration problems.

This is not only about low-skilled workers who are the target of border reinforcement, the usual first thought when the issue of immigration comes up, and the subject of enough debate that I need not rehash it here.

America has ridiculously low limits on the numbers of available H-1B visas for high-skilled workers such as engineers and programmers, many of whom receive top-quality educations here only to be told to go elsewhere and compete against the United States.

On April 8, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency announced that it had “reached the statutory H-1B cap of 65,000 for fiscal year (FY) 2014 within the first week of the filing period. USCIS has also received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the advanced degree exemption.”

It’s no wonder that Canada is aggressively advertising its work visa program, trying to encourage frustrated foreign would-be contributors to the American economy to move north. It has been nearly six years since Microsoft opened an office in Canada “to attract talent and avoid U.S. immigration issues” but among the political class, Republicans remain married to their hawkish base-riling rhetoric while Democrats remain supine to the AFL-CIO, all at the expense of our nation.

Canada offers other lessons for America: As Reason magazine’s Shikha Dalmia recently suggested, the Tory party (the more conservative of Canada’s two major political parties) can “show the GOP how to win immigrant votes”: “In fact, so popular are Conservatives with immigrants that Haroon Siddiqui, a liberal Toronto Star columnist (ironically, an Indian émigré), recently complained that Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants more immigrants because ‘”ethnic voters” helped him win his majority.’”

Republicans, not known for their long-term (or short-term) political wisdom, may actually recognize that immigration reform need not be the massive political gift to Democrats that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and labor unions clearly expect. Politically and economically, the GOP is correct to want immigration reform, even if it pushes to a modest degree against their base’s discomfort with anything that smells even slightly like amnesty.

But there must be a cost that is simply too high -- and it bodes poorly for our nation’s future when that price tag is proposed by Republicans.

Which brings us back to the “surge”: Are nominally anti-big government Republicans really going to say that the price of their supporting immigration reform is to put another several billion dollars a year into the hands of government -- and for the time being into the control of Homeland Security Secretary Janet “we’re secure enough already” Napolitano?

As the Los Angeles Times points out, “Last fiscal year, border-related agencies received about $18 billion in funding — more than the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combined.”

Do we really need to double the size of a Border Patrol that has already doubled in size in less than a decade, with apprehensions -- despite a moderate increase this year over last year -- at their lowest levels since the early 1970s?

Do we want to create another 20,000 members in a government employees’ union, thereby adding substantially to the inclination of future Republicans to increase, or at least not cut, federal spending? The “surge” approach will encourage members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to say that the border is not secure enough, so they can outbid each other with our money on so-called “security,” which only a courageous few will have the courage to call a waste of money.

As one Senate aide told Breitbart News, “This amendment is going to be filled with kickbacks and buyoffs.” And “another aide close to the process concurred with that sentiment.”

How bad does an idea have to be to have the most sensible comment on it come from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)? The usually unhinged leftist, proving the “broken clock” metaphor, said, “I am sure there are federal contracting firms high-fiving at the prospect of all of the spending demanded by Senate Republicans in this amendment.… The litany of expensive services, technology, and hardware mandated by this package is combined with an inexplicable waiver of many normal contracting rules. This is a potential recipe for waste, fraud and abuse.”

Do we really believe that this level of expense and inevitable corruption would be necessary to prevent illegal immigration if we had a sensible immigration system instead of the irrational, destructive morass created by decades of special interest lobbying and the pandering of politicians to the lowest common denominators of public opinion and economic idiocy?

The border security “surge” proposal screams “we’ve already failed with reform so we’ll try to make up for it with more government spending on something we think that you think we need.” And when those are the arguments you’re getting from Republicans, you know the legislation is, or at least should be, in a lot of trouble.

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About the Author
Ross Kaminsky is a self-employed trader and investor and is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute. He is the host of The Ross Kaminsky Show on Denver's NewsRadio 850 KOA on Saturday mornings from 6 AM to 9 AM. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin(at)rossputin(dot)com.