Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

GOP blew its chance to put immigration issue behind it

One of the animating issues of the 2016 campaign -- at least on the Republican side -- has been illegal immigration. The conservative narrative tells us that President Obama has thrown open the borders, abandoned enforcement and allowed the influx of raping, looting hordes.

Then there's reality.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Mexican nationals living in this country has dropped significantly since 2009. In fact, between 2009 and 2014, the number of people who have left the United States to return to Mexico has been larger than the number coming here from Mexico, both legally and illegally.

Overall, the number of Mexicans living in the United States illegally is down 1.2 million since its peak in 2007, and the number of those of all nationalities here illegally has dropped as well.

The economy has undoubtedly played a role in that decline, but tougher enforcement has had an impact as well. For example, we have doubled the size of the Border Patrol in the past decade, and it would have been doubled yet again under the failed Senate immigration-reform measure that has become such a central issue among Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

In fact, let's review what other changes would already be underway if in 2014, House Republicans had chosen to accept the Senate-passed bill instead of refusing to even give it a hearing:

  • More than 700 miles of additional fencing along the southwest border would now be under construction.
  • Adding up all the projects detailed specifically in the bill, another 85 border observation towers, 488 fixed 24-hour video surveillance systems, 232 mobile video surveillance systems, 4,595 ground and infrared sensors, and 820 handheld infrared and night-vision systems, plus thousands of other border-enforcement tools such as radiation sensors, license-plate readers, etc.,  would either be deployed by now or under construction.
  • Almost 50 additional helicopters, 30 boats, four drones and six VADER ground-radar systems “to detect and follow people traveling on foot, as well as moving land vehicles” would have been purchased and deployed along our southern border.
  • The secretary of Homeland Security would have been given the authority to waive any federal law, including the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws, that might interfere with fence construction.
  • A $750 million upgrade of the E-verify system would now be underway, and once the upgrade was completed, employers would have been mandated to use the upgraded system to verify that a person is legally eligible for work. In addition, “fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant, wear-resistant, and identity-theft resistant Social Security cards” would already be well on their way to development and use.

But none of that has happened, because the bill also included a long and difficult path to legal status for long-term residents here illegally, the dreaded "amnesty. " In most cases, the bill would not have allowed that legalization process to begin until after the doubling of the Border Patrol had been completed, the new E-Verify system was fully functional and mandatory, and all the steps mentioned above had been implemented.

That wasn't good enough. Even though poll after poll has shown strong majority support for a path to legalization, that wasn't good enough to get the bill even considered by the House, let alone passed into law. As then-Speaker John Boehner memorably described his colleagues' reaction to the immigration issue:

That failure to act at the moment that it would have mattered continues to have consequences.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.