Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2004 / 21 Teves, 5764

Edward I. Koch

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It is not compassionate or intelligent to open our borders to all | President Bush is proposing legislation to legalize the status of an estimated eight to eleven million foreigners who now live and work illegally in the United States. The President's idea is to turn these undocumented aliens into legal, taxpaying guest workers, with a right to participate in the Social Security system and to travel to their home countries on temporary visits. At the end of three years and a possible three-year extension, these guest workers would be required to return to their countries of origin and would be barred from admittance to the U.S. as permanent residents unless they meet the strict standards of the laws.

In my view, the President's proposal is deficient in several respects. First, it unrealistically assumes that the aliens covered by the program will depart voluntarily when their guest worker period ends. The aliens who now live illegally in the U.S. either snuck into the country or entered legally and overstayed their Visas. They have successfully avoided arrest to date. Based on their prior successful evasion of the immigration authorities, it is virtually certain that they will continue to remain in the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws.

Second, I believe the President's plan, if implemented, would increase the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. over the long term. To the extent it rewards illegal aliens for violating our laws, it sends the wrong message to others that violating our immigration laws might pay off in the end. The resulting surge in illegal immigration will undermine American workers, who will face increased competition from guest workers willing to accept minimum wages. Employers will love the fact that they can hire cheap labor that will never strike or demand higher wages for fear of losing the job that allows them to stay in the U.S.

The President and his aides refuse to concede the obvious — that the Bush proposal is nothing more than a form of amnesty. The last amnesty program in the U.S. was implemented in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan. The beneficiaries of the current amnesty proposal would be unskilled workers willing to take jobs that most Americans won't — jobs that pay minimum wages. The administration acknowledges that they expect the beneficiaries to overwhelmingly be Latinos, the largest number coming from Mexico.

Why is President Bush advocating this ridiculous and totally unworkable program? Plain and simple, it is a political effort to increase his support in the Hispanic sector of the electorate during this election year.

Some may ask how I can oppose the President's amnesty proposal when I, as mayor of New York City, put into effect three controversial provisions protecting illegal aliens. The first provision barred the arrest of any undocumented alien who reported being a victim of a crime, unless he or she had committed a crime other than being an undocumented alien. The second provision permitted the treatment of poor undocumented aliens at city-operated hospitals without fear of being reported to the INS. My third directive allowed undocumented aliens to place their children in the city's public schools without fear of being reported to the immigration authorities.

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The reasons for my actions and their being continued by my successors, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, were totally humanitarian and in the joint interest of the individual alien and all other New Yorkers. In the first situation, I wanted to encourage illegal aliens to report crimes committed against them which would deter crimes against others. In the second, I wished to prevent the spread of infection. And in the third, I sought to protect children from predators and keep them off the streets and possibly becoming involved in crime themselves.

What would I suggest in place of the President's proposal?

First, we need to expand compassionate responses to categories of illegal aliens. For example, if an illegal alien marries a lawful U.S. resident or citizen, we should legalize his or her status more expeditiously. If the children of illegals are born in this country, the parents' status should be legalized. If illegals enlist in the U.S. armed forces — and they should not be barred from doing so — their status should be legalized. We should entertain other compassionate responses, as well.

Second, we should make a real effort to locate and deport illegal aliens. We should impose much severer penalties on employers who hire them. Current penalties are ridiculously light, and enforcement is sporadic. The effect is that employers do not fear sanctions. In addition, we should erect border fences and increase patrols that protect U.S. borders from being illegally crossed.

We have a generous immigration policy that currently allows 750,000 legal, permanent immigrants annually and 250,000 refugees to enter the U.S. However, it is not compassionate or intelligent to take the position that our borders should be open to all. No country has such a policy. To take such a position makes us not more humane, but simply uncaring with respect to the current population, which is suffering from an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, a figure that does not include many Americans who have simply given up looking for work.

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JWR contributor Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York, can be heard on Bloomberg Radio (WBBR 1130 AM) every Saturday from 9-10 am. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Edward I. Koch