The Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this week that it completed the 500th mile of the congressionally mandated border fence — 170 miles short of its goal. In 2005, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for the fence. President-elect Obama now says “he wants to evaluate what’s working on the border as he considers whether to continue building the 670 miles of fencing.” While Obama undertakes this evaluation, he should remember that there is no silver-bullet remedy for our nation’s failed immigration policies.

Illegal immigrants are straining federal and state budgets. Local social services find it hard to meet growing needs. Recent attempts to fix these problems died largely because they tried to accomplish too much. But several practical steps can help to achieve the ultimate goal of making America free, safe and prosperous:

  • Secure America’s Borders: The United States must have a complete border security system — from the point of origin, in transit, at the border, and within the United States — that strengthens all of the activities, assets and programs necessary to secure America’s borders. This includes a thorough examination of border security efforts to determine which ones are working and which are not. While Congress mandated 700 miles of fencing, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should assess the need for border infrastructure according to the priorities and requirements identified by the Border Patrol, not political fiat. This means that additional infrastructure should be built only where it is efficacious. Federal operations should be coordinated more closely so that they complement the efforts of state and local governments.
  • Do Not Accept Amnesty: Those who enter, remain in, and work in the United States illegally are in ongoing and extensive violation of our laws. This has a corrosive effect on civil society and undermines confidence in the immigration process and the rule-of-law principles that govern our nation. Forgiving or condoning such violations by granting amnesty will only increase the likelihood of further illegal conduct. Indeed, after legislation granted a general immigration amnesty in 1986, the unlawful population in the United States quadrupled. Failure to enforce immigration laws is deeply unfair to the millions who obey the law and abide by the administrative requirements that must be observed to enter the country legally.
  • Enforce the Law: We need to enforce the immigration and workplace enforcement laws that already exist. In his July 8 speech in Washington, Obama was right to recognize that immigrants who enter our country illegally are breaking the law. Federal, state and local law enforcement must be allowed to enforce immigration laws in ways that are consistent with their legal authority. In that same month of July, a report by the Center for Immigration Studies found that recent enforcement efforts have succeeded in decreasing the illegal immigration population by 11%. Further reforms must allow sharing of Social Security no-match information in a way that will protect privacy rights while allowing the DHS to target employers who intentionally violate the law by hiring illegal workers and giving the government incorrect information.
  • Strengthen Citizenship and Recognize English as Our National Language: Each nation has the responsibility — and obligation — to determine for itself what legal requirements will be established for immigration, naturalization and citizenship. According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services report released yesterday, some districts are conducting the oath of citizenship ceremony entirely in Spanish. Immigration reform legislation should recognize English as the national language because clear communication, mutual deliberation, public education, expanding commerce and common civil principles demand that citizens share one language.
  • Reform the Current Visa Programs and Services: Now more than ever our country needs policies that will encourage economic growth. A recent study shows that more than 25% of the tech companies founded in the United States between 1995 and 2005, were founded or co-founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs. Our existing visa policies must be reformed in a manner that appropriately addresses concerns regarding security, sovereignty, citizenship and economic growth. It is also necessary that any improvements in the current visa systems include oversight measures to ensure that visa holders leave the United States when their visas expire.

History has demonstrated that the Band-Aid solution of amnesty simply serves to incentivize law breakers. It is imperative that the next administration address the many serious problems that plague our border security efforts and threaten to destroy our immigration system. Our border must be secured through a systematic approach and better integrated into the broader homeland security enterprise to ensure that America is free, safe and prosperous for years to come.

Quick Hits:

  • According to Rasmussen Reports, 71% of U.S. voters say that cigarette companies should not be held liable for health problems that current smokers develop.
  • According to a Pentagon report, the Georgian military suffers from widespread mismanagement and unqualified leadership, and is in need of extensive reforms to become a modern fighting force.
  • Massachusetts’ new marijuana law allows anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana to escape without even a fine or citation.
  • The Washington Post is accepting only positive Obama ads for its special inauguration edition.
  • The Heritage Foundation will deeply miss Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and first president of Heritage. He died early this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.