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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

Say No To Amnesty

Economics, Economics, Economics Immigration, Tax & Budget

Americans already spend far too much to support a huge illegal population. Enforcing existing laws might encourage self-deportation.

“Comprehensive immigration reform” is a euphemism for amnesty. As such, reform will impose significant costs on the country. The primary effect of immigration amnesties in both the U.S. and Europe has been to attract more illegal immigration. An amnesty signals to potential border-crossers that if they can just get into the country illegally, they will eventually be given legal status. Illegal entries in the U.S. rose after the Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986 went into effect and have increased fivefold from the 1980s to today.

The vast majority of illegal aliens who have entered the U.S. since 1986 have been low-skilled, low-educated Mexicans and Central Americans; those groups will also make up the bulk of illegal immigrants most attracted by the current proposed amnesty. Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans made up 74% of the illegal population last year, says the Department of Homeland Security.

Therein lies the problem. To be sure, many children and grandchildren of Hispanic illegal aliens follow the timeworn immigrant trajectory of upward mobility; they are great assets to their communities. But a significant portion of second- and third-generation Latinos are assimilating downward into underclass culture. Hispanics have the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. and the fastest-growing rate of illegitimacy (now 53%) compared with blacks and whites. The incarceration rate of Mexican immigrants jumps more than eightfold between the first and second generations, resulting in a prison rate 3.5 times that of whites.

While second-generation Hispanics do better than their parents in school, that progress stalls at high school completion. Hispanics’ high school dropout rate--around 50%--has not budged for generations, and their low college-completion rate has not changed for two decades, according to Patricia Gandara and Frances Contreras in The Latino Education Crisis (Harvard University Press, 2008). In California, the bellwether for all things pertaining to illegal immigration, large numbers of U.S.-born Hispanic students continue to be classified as nonnative “English language learners” through much of their school years, even though they speak English, because their academic and linguistic skills are so deficient.

The costs of out-of-wedlock childbearing, academic failure and gang involvement among the progeny of Hispanic immigrants are enormous. (By one conservative estimate, California spends at least $6 billion a year on services, from education and health care to prison, for illegals and their families.) Come 2030 the country will have experienced its first national decline in literacy and numeracy if current immigration patterns hold steady, the Educational Testing Service warned in 2005. California faces an 11% drop in per capita income by 2020 unless the college matriculation rate of Hispanics improves, predicted the Center for Public Policy & Higher Education in 2005. Crime from California’s overwhelmingly Hispanic juvenile dropouts costs the state $1 billion-plus annually, the California Dropout Research Project at UC, Santa Barbara calculated last year.

It will not do to say we’ll maintain the low-skilled immigration status quo and fix its economic and social consequences through more government programs. Federal, state and local agencies have already spent billions of dollars trying to close the Hispanic achievement gap without noticeable effect.

A hundred years ago, when America’s economy was still heavily industrial, that gap would not have impeded the upward mobility of Hispanic immigrants and their children. Today, however, our economic future depends on a labor force with the advanced knowledge to compete with a fiercely disciplined Asia. Our immigration policy should reorient itself toward professionals and highly skilled tradesmen, following the lead of Australia, Ireland and Canada. We should limit family visas to members of an immigrant’s nuclear family and eliminate birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens. We must close off the flow of unskilled illegal aliens by enforcing the law, not subverting it with an amnesty. Stepped-up enforcement over the last few years has resulted in voluntary migration back to Mexico and Central America; mandatory work eligibility checks by employers and cooperation among local police and federal immigration agents would encourage more illegal aliens to self-deport. Those who choose to stay have no claim on legalization. Unlike the millions of legal immigrants, they assumed the risk of illegal status by knowingly entering the country in violation of our laws.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes

This piece originally appeared in Forbes