In the coming U.S. immigration reform debate, there is a simple solution: The United States must return to the idea that governed through the 19th century and much of the 20th. To wit: Immigration policy must be based on what is good for the nation, not the immigrant.
This means to stop blaming illegal immigration on the people who illegally cross the border in search of economic opportunities not present in their home countries. The blame lies with political decisions made by past and present members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate — or their silence on the issue.
At the core, they refused to engage in any rational immigration policy. They essentially ignored the issue for the benefit of political campaign contributions and favoritism to business interests since the early 1940s.
This peculiar stance resulted in the abandonment of the most successful immigration policy that made the nation great — an orderly process to supply it with dedicated and fully committed loyal citizens from all countries in the world.
As early as 1947, then-President Harry Truman noted that undocumented entries along the southern border of the United States were becoming epidemic, so he asked Congress to pass laws prohibiting such forms of unaccountable hiring. Congress ignored his request, allowing the unrestrained flow and hiring to continue.
Next, President Eisenhower launched Operation Wetback, deporting over one million illegal entrants. He was guided in part by a report in the New York Times that stated:
The rise in illegal border-crossing by Mexican "wetbacks" to a current rate of more than 1,000,000 cases a year has been accompanied by a curious relaxation in ethical standards extending all the way from the farmer-exploiters of this contraband labor to the highest levels of the Federal Government.
The operation was hailed as a success. In reality, the southern border had been turned into a turnstile — "Don't worry boss, I'll be back tomorrow." Nothing was done about the shortsighted, unsystematic hiring practices that were the root cause for illegal entries and reentries.
Over the years, U.S. politicians became adept at blaming Mexico and Mexican citizens for their very own failure to set up a suitable immigration process. They took their cue from their campaign contributors in the business community to say much but do nothing.
And then they curried favor with the nation's nativist camp, which counts a fair number of Congressional members among its ranks.
Few cared about the animosity and resentment this deliberate non-policy generated in citizens' sentiments against these economic opportunity seekers.
This led to the widely held belief that it is not the jobs that attract. Rather it is the lawlessness of Mexicans because, after all, the United States is a nation of laws and law abiding citizens.
During his second term, President Ronald Reagan showed the necessary resolve to tackle the issue. And tackle it he did. He pushed and had Congress pass the first true immigration reform. For the first time, it became a federal offense to hire illegal immigrants.
The purpose of the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986 was to hail a new era of immigration policy and that returned the nation to an immigration policy that was best for the country.
But guided by and influenced by special interests, members of Congress ended up gutting the sections pertaining to illegal hiring. In many cases, when immigration authorities attempted to enforce illegal hiring of undocumented workers, Congressional members stepped in to stop them.
It was a blatant disregard for the law for which ordinary citizens would have been accused of aiding, abetting, or conspiring with illegal workers. At a minimum, it interfered with authorities executing their duty. It was a shameful practice that hurt the interests of both the nation and its legal immigrants. But no one spoke up against those Congressional representatives.
Soon enough, the IRCA was viewed as a failure. The failure was not the law itself, however. It was the political hypocrisy and shortsightedness of our elected bodies.
Had IRCA been properly enforced, illegal immigration would not be the problem it is today. To be sure, illegal immigration would continue today, but absent available jobs, the number of inflows would be minimal.
So now we are leaving it up to Congress to once again come to the table and provide us with ... what? More of the same? If so, we will be no further ahead than we were in 1986.
There is no need for a prolonged debate on the issue. It is as simple as revisiting IRCA and adjusting it, but with a clear mandate for strict adherence to the sections prohibiting the hiring of undocumented workers, and forcing the agricultural sector to comply with IRCA's mandate regarding the use of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Guest Worker Program.
IRCA's probation section — wrongly labeled "Amnesty" — can be duplicated as written, but with stricter controls and enforcement. It's all there.
Once this is done, the work can begin on making other changes to maintain the flow of highly skilled and educated immigrants that are in high demand and necessary for the nation's future economic growth.
It is simply a matter of doing right by the nation, not the politicians and their patrons. Ironically, such a rational and principled course of action is what will help immigrants the most.
Patrick Osio is a contributing columnist to The Globalist (www.theglobalis.com) and Editor of HispanicVista.com.