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Policy: Immigration

The path to citizenship vs. the rule of law

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Conn Carroll,Immigration,Paul Ryan,Homeland Security,Surveillance,Border Security,Analysis

As the immigration debate in Congress moves from the Senate to the House, the Republican point man for those who want to give citizenship to illegal immigrants is also switching from the Senate's most-likely White House 2016 candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to the House's, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

"We need to enforce our laws," Ryan told the City Club of Chicago on April 22. "We need to let legal immigrants come here legally. ... You have to have a system where you can get agricultural demand met. You have to have a system, going forward, that deals with future flow, so that we don't wind up like we did after 1996 and 1986 with broken immigration going into the future."

Ryan is right about one thing: How America handles the future flow of immigrants is essential to making sure that we do not repeat the mistake of the 1986 amnesty, which is what makes what he said next so nonsensical.

"We have to offer people a path to earned citizenship," Ryan said, "We have to invite people to come out of the shadows. We have to have a system that people have confidence in. It is a system whereby people who have been contributing here can get right with the law. It is a system that still respects the rule of law."

Again, Ryan should be congratulated for identifying the principle that must be at the center of any good immigration reform policy: respect for the rule of law.

Unfortunately, any policy that gives citizenship to illegal immigrants now, while pretending that future enforcement efforts will guarantee no illegal immigration in the future, will only guarantee the rule of law is undermined.

Just look at S. 744, the bill passed by the Senate and largely embraced by Ryan. Not only does S. 744 set strict immigration quotas for each sector of the economy for the next couple of years, it sets wages for entire job categories. "Agricultural equipment operators" are to be paid exactly $11.30 under S. 744, while crop harvesters are set to make $9.17. There simply is no free-market justification for any of these wage controls.

And, while these initial quotas and controls do eventually expire, what replaces them is no better from a conservative free-market perspective. S. 744 creates a brand-new government bureaucracy, called the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, charged with setting brand-new quotas and wage controls for the future.

Does Ryan believe that the existing quotas and wage controls in S. 744 will properly manage future agricultural labor demand now? How much confidence does he have in Washington bureaucrats properly setting those quotas and wage controls in the future?

And, if Ryan is not a sudden convert to top-down government control of the economy, then what does he think will happen when the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research misses its mark? That's right. More illegal immigration.

In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, even after S. 744 spends more than $46 billion on border security over the next 10 years, including doubling the border patrol, there will still be about 7.5 million illegal immigrants left in the country.

And that assumes Obama actually follows through with the creation of a brand new E-Verify system, which is highly doubtful considering he just unilaterally delayed implementation of Obamacare's equally burdensome employer mandate.

And what will Ryan suggest we do with that new illegal immigrant population 10 years from now? Self-deport? Of course not.

Instead, another "path to citizenship" will have to offered, more confidence will be lost in the system, and the rule of law will be undermined again.

The reality is that, like the drug war's failure to end drug use, the federal government is never going to be able to stop illegal immigration completely. Any immigration policy that pretends otherwise is doomed to fail.

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