No Home for Amnesty in a Sustainable America

Published on September 7th, 2010


"At the root of any modern nation-state lies the belief that because a given population shares, or can be made to share, certain identifiable characteristics—religion, language, shared history, and so on—it merits an independent existence," wrote historian James L. Gelvin.

Some 500 years of history, tracing back to the Protestant Reformation, anchor the development of the concept of nation-state, which became the preeminent political organizing structure worldwide by the 19th century.

Sovereignty and recognizable borders are among the most prominent characteristics of the nation-state. For the United States, its borders have evolved through the last 200 years and the push of Manifest Destiny, ultimately taking our current 50-state form.

BorderBorders are more than just lines on maps. With recognizable borders comes a system to maintain their integrity. In the nation’s collective memory, Ellis Island, site of passage for 12 million legal immigrants to the U.S. from the late 1890s through the early 1950s, is the symbol of a system that once ensured we knew who was coming into the country.

In recent times, the focal point of a legal gateway for U.S. entry has eroded both in reality and in public consciousness. Although people have entered the country illegally since immigration laws were first passed, the numbers in recent years have soared. Millions are in this country illegally because they sneaked across borders or overstayed their visas.

The influx of humanity coming to the country both legally and illegally has been addressed in various ways through the years. Under presidents Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower there were mass deportations of illegal aliens, including large numbers from Mexico who worked throughout the southwestern states in agriculture. By the end of the Eisenhower years, reports indicated that illegal immigration dropped by 95 percent.

Then in 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act (the Hart-Celler Immigration Bill). Essentially, it replaced immigration law from the 1920s and recast the future of immigration for the country.With staunch support from a young Senator Ted Kennedy, the new law placed no limit on the number of family members that could come to the country by way of a “family reunification” clause for legal immigrants. The law also shifted the focus fromWestern European immigrants and opened up immigration to non-European nations, notably Asian and Latin American countries. Immigration doubled between 1965 and 1970, with another doubling between 1970 and 1990.

Twenty years later, immigration—this time illegal—was again a topic. Again, with a big push from Senator Kennedy, the role of immigration in shaping the country was to change, this time with the passage of the Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, an amnesty for illegal aliens.

Since IRCA, Congress has enacted an additional six amnesties, providing some 5.7 million people with the gift of U.S. citizenship:

  1. Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA), 1986
    Blanket amnesty for some 2.7 million illegal aliens.
  2. Section 245(i) Amnesty, 1994
    Temporary rolling amnesty for 578,000 illegal aliens.
  3. Section 245(i) Extension Amnesty, 1997
    Extension of the rolling amnesty created in 1994.
    Note: The numbers for section 245(i) are not broken out for 1994 and 1997.
  4. Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) Amnesty, 1997
    Amnesty for close to 1 million illegal aliens from Central America.
  5. Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act Amnesty (HRIFA), 1998
    Amnesty for 125,000 illegal aliens from Haiti.
  6. Late Amnesty, 2000
    Amnesty for some illegal aliens who claim they should have received amnesty under the 1986 IRCA amnesty, an estimated 400,000 illegal aliens.
  7. LIFE Act Amnesty, 2000
    Reinstatement of the rolling Section 245(i) amnesty, an estimated 900,000 illegal aliens.

Ultimately, these legislative acts awarded amnesty to a much larger populace than the original estimates. Rather than cover some one million illegal aliens, IRCA, together with the Late Amnesty of 2000, gave the opportunity for naturalization to more than 3 million people who were illegally in the U.S.


The number of people living in the country illegally now is at an epic level, between 10 and 30 million according to most government and academic estimates, although some studies place the figure much higher. It is difficult to overstate the enormity of the problem, even at the conservative, consensus figure. For some perspective on size, more than 100 nations of the world have a population less than 12 million. Many politicians, thinking of short-term fixes, rather than the best interests of American citizens, have focused on amnesty, failing to note the historical record demonstrating that amnesties simply lead to more amnesties and to higher rates of illegal immigration.


Traditionally, America has been one of the few countries that was a magnet for large-scale immigration. With increased global population pressure and greater mobility, the United States—the third most populous country in the world—is no longer alone in wrestling with immigration issues.

Britain’s new austerity plan includes recognition that immigration is out of control, and the country will cap the number of immigrants from outside the EU. In Northern Ireland, after a recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, a representative of the border agency said, “We will not tolerate illegal working which threatens to damage our communities, and will act on intelligence to target those businesses which ignore the rules and remove those with no right to be in the UK.”

In Australia, environmentalists, concerned with the deleterious impacts of population growth on the environment, are leading an effort to reduce immigration levels. The population of Australia, approximately the same size as our contiguous states, is 22 million compared to the U.S. population of 310 million.

A CNN report noted severe penalties, including corporal punishment, for illegal immigration in Malaysia and Singapore. Italy criminalized illegal immigration last year in a law that “allows unarmed civilians to form patrol groups and help police fight crime on the street,” CNN observed.

In comparison, the law passed this year in Arizona to try to combat the state’s epidemic of illegal immigration—an estimated 460,000 illegal aliens are calling Arizona home—seems mild. It allows law officers, in the course of enforcing other laws, to check a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. illegally. The law mirrors federal law that has been in force for decades.


Since first rewarding illegal aliens with amnesty and a path to citizenship in the 1980s, the U.S. population has continued to grow inexorably with no end in sight. The U.S. Bureau of the Census makes low, middle and high projections for future population growth. On the high end, by 2100, U.S. population may be more than 1 billion. The decade starting in 1990 saw the biggest population increase of any prior 10-year period in U.S. history.

%In California, which absorbs about 21 percent of the country’s immigrants, the state’s continuing population explosion is attributable to immigration and the higher-than-average fertility rates of new immigrants. The state has an estimated 3-5 million illegal aliens among its population of 39 million.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens settle in across the U.S. from every imaginable country from A to Z—Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, with Albania, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Somalia, Sudan and others in between.

Our neighbor to the immediate south, however, accounts for the largest percentage at 56 percent. Estimates suggest that as many as half of all Mexicans living in the U.S. are here illegally. Of all deportations, Mexico represents 70 percent, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Deportations doubled from 1999 to 2008 to nearly 360,000, of which 97,000 were criminal deportations.

With a population of 13.6 million in 1900, Mexico’s population has now ballooned to 111 million. A well-known litany of poverty, drug trafficking and government corruption in Mexico, coupled with inadequate border and immigration enforcement on the U.S. side, has led to the ongoing exodus of Mexicans from their home, with the tacit support of the Mexican government.

While people illegally crossing the Mexico- U.S. border by foot or vehicle is a familiar image and the source of 60 percent of illegal aliens, the other 40 percent arrived legally and overstayed their visas.


Scantly mentioned by either presidential candidate in the 2008 race, the issue of illegal immigration was overshadowed by the severe recession when President Obama took office. But it was clear that the President favored both an amnesty and an increase in the number of immigrants allowed into the U.S.

Among the five cornerstones promoted on the White House’s immigration webpage were plans to “increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill” and “support a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.” With Obama in office, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved quickly with a placeholder bill for amnesty legislation, S.9, the Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009, calling for "reforming and rationalizing avenues for legal immigration."

In a major speech on immigration in summer 2010, Obama called for amnesty in the guise of immigration reform, blaming the “pressure of partisanship and election year politics” for derailing his plans for a “pathway for legal status” for millions living in the U.S. illegally. Despite the rhetoric and intense pressure from open-border advocates, it is unlikely that Congress will take up immigration legislation before the November 2010 elections; there simply is not enough support to get a bill passed.

Hence, open-border groups began pushing Obama to implement a de facto amnesty through executive action, a temporary halt to nearly all deportations as well as the issuance of work permits to illegal aliens. Breaking news of this development led Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and seven other senators to write Obama and ask for a "commitment that the Administration has no plans to … change the current position of a large group of illegal aliens already in the United States."


Poll after poll indicates that the majority of Americans view illegal immigration differently than the Obama administration does. A USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 80 percent of Americans are concerned that illegal immigrants burden schools, hospitals and other government services, and 77 percent believe that they drive down wages. A New York Times/CBS poll found that 82 percent think border enforcement is insufficient to keep illegal aliens from coming to the U.S., and a Rasmussen Reports poll showed 79 percent did not think the government was doing enough to secure the border.


Several surveys have shown broad, national support for the Arizona law. The Associated Press reported that its recent poll found “almost twice as many people support the Arizona law as those who oppose it.” Like other states—and border states in particular— Arizona has been under attack in recent years by both an unchecked increasing illegal population and crime. From 2000 to 2008, the number of illegal aliens in Arizona skyrocketed by 70 percent, and 14 percent of the prison population was illegal aliens.

In addition to widespread public disapproval of illegal immigration, there are problematic implications to implementation of any amnesty legislation. A known weak and nonperforming agency, the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) would be responsible for processing millions of people which will take time and millions of dollars. Past amnesties have been plagued by fraud and abuse. One of the biggest problems would be accurately identifying applicants— their actual names, history and background. Many applicants will have a long history of scamming the immigration benefits system by using alternative names, fraudulent or stolen Social Security numbers and ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers), or counterfeit birth certificates. The Mexican government-issued matricula consular card is notoriously unreliable.


Open-border advocates often characterize those who enter or remain in the U.S. illegally as “just looking for a better life.” While many fit that description—if we choose to ignore the violation of our immigration laws—there are numerous examples to the contrary by those committing identity theft, driving while uninsured, driving while inebriated, failing to file income taxes and trafficking in drugs. Furthermore, there are multiple cases of individuals who have entered our country illegally with the clear intention of engaging in terrorist activity.

The evidence indicates that a new amnesty, like the previous ones, will effect an increase in illegal immigration. Zogby International found that a majority of Mexicans (56 percent) thought giving legal status to illegal aliens in the U.S. would lead to more illegal immigration there. For Mexicans who had an immediate household member living in the U.S., 65 percent said an amnesty would make people they knew more likely to migrate to the U.S. illegally.

An illegal population has a severe impact in the workplace where it drives down wages, inflicting its greatest damage on those at the bottom of the economic spectrum who can least afford it. By encouraging more workers to enter the country illegally, an amnesty would simply continue to feed the demand for cheap labor.

The negative impacts of amnesty on the environment and sustainability of the country are patently obvious. More people equals more demands and strains on the natural environment in a country that many conservationists believe can sustain a population of 200 million, not 310 million, and certainly not more than 1 billion.

Moreover, the economic costs attached to illegal immigration are staggering. A grant of amnesty to just 10 million adult illegal aliens could impose a net cost on the government of more than $2.6 trillion, according to a Heritage Foundation study.

This analysis was completed before healthcare “reform,” so it does not include any additional costs from that program.An elderly, low-skilled immigrant would cost the taxpayer an average $17,000 per year in Social Security and Medicare benefits, or Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid benefits. While mortality rates would reduce the total figure by roughly 15 percent by age 67, that would still yield 8.5 million people who would enter retirement.

Because the average adult illegal immigrant is now in his or her early 30s, it would be 25 to 30 years before the majority of amnesty recipients retire. Nevertheless, when they do, they would increase the number of Social Security beneficiaries by 5 to 10 percent at a time when Social Security is projected to run annual deficits of more than $200 billion.

Educational levels are also very low among illegal aliens: 49 to 61 percent of adults lack a high school diploma, compared to nine percent of American-born adults. Due to this lack of education, adult illegal aliens have double the poverty rate of adult native-born Americans, 27 percent versus 13 percent.

Lower educational levels among the workforce will make it increasingly difficult for America to compete globally. In 1970, California had the seventh most-educated work force of the 50 states in terms of the share of its workers who had completed high school. Because of massive immigration, it ranked 50th in 2008, making it the least-educated state—a startling transformation for a state once iconic as the center of technological innovation. One in six workers in the state has not graduated from high school.


Amnesty is no answer to the problems caused by years of mass, unchecked illegal immigration. The solution lies in developing the fortitude to enforce the laws we have passed. Any blanket or partial amnesty would be patently unfair to the many who have played by the rules of the legal immigration process and have entered legally or have been denied admission. An amnesty would be prohibitively costly and poses a threat to national security.

StopAn enforced ban on hiring illegal immigrants would cause many to leave the country voluntarily—an approach known as attrition through enforcement. Mandatory usage of the successful E-Verify program and penalties for businesses who knowingly hire illegal employees would help unemployed American workers, and discourage new illegal immigration.

Secure U.S. borders are essential. After Arizona passed its immigration law, President Obama in May 2010 ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to protect the border, a paltry number, but an acknowledgment that he understands that border enforcement works. In summer 2006 and early 2007, when the National Guard was deployed to the U.S. border for the Jump Start border operation, there was a 60 percent decrease in illegal apprehensions. Fewer people attempted illegal entry because of the deterrence of the National Guard presence.

Our nation must also tackle the other component of illegal immigration—those who enter our country legally for a specific time period, but then do not leave upon the expiration of their tourist, work or student visas. The government must develop procedures to guarantee that those who arrive with our permission depart when that authorization expires.

Finally, we need to advocate for and fund family planning here and abroad. While the hard work of individuals and organizations has led to significantly lowered birthrates in many parts of the world, there remains a great, unmet need for family planning services. President Obama has his eye on an amnesty, but the best legacy he could leave for future generations is a sustainable America. Creating a sustainable country has multiple components, but a sound immigration and population policy is one essential piece. Encouraging those who are living and working here illegally to return to their home countries and discouraging further illegal immigration must be at the top of the agenda.



“How Eisenhower solved illegal border crossings from Mexico,”
John Dillin, The Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 2006.

“Immigration Bill Could Aid 500,000 in State,”
Brian Rosenthal, Orange County Register, July 8, 2010.

“The Modern Middle East, a History,”
James L. Gelvin, Oxford University Press, 2005.

“No Federal Agency Currently Exists Able to Screen 10 to 20 Million Amnesty Applicants,”
Diana Hull, Ph.D. and Michael W. Cutler, April 13, 2010, CAPSweb.org.

“No state give on Obama illegal immigration suit; Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer fires back defiantly,”
Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010.

“Public Opinion in Mexico on U.S. Immigration: Zogby Poll Examines Attitudes,”
Steven A. Camarota, October 2009, http:/cis.org.

“Queen of England Gives Up On European Liberal Agendas,”
Marc Chamot, The Marc Chamot Report News and Opinions, May 26, 2010.

“UK Border Agency: Portadown takeaway employs three illegal immigrants,”
M2 PressWire, June 8, 2010.

“Illegal Immigration,”
Connect the World, 4 pm, EST, CNN International, July 1, 2010.


cis.org (Center for Immigration Studies)




For more information please contact:
[email protected]
Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS)
1129 State Street, 3-D
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

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