Those who support amnesty for illegal aliens and want to provide them with “a path to citizenship” are engaged in a new effort to make those goals a reality before the next election. President Obama is leading the way. He deserves credit for keeping his word to support programs that would safeguard our borders, while making clear he intends to resume the battle to legalize the status of the estimated 11 to 20 million illegal aliens now in the U.S. He calls his program, as did his predecessor President Bush before him, comprehensive immigration reform.
According to The New York Times of May 10, one of the programs that President Bush started and President Obama continued “has been a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement efforts.” It is known as the Secure Communities program. Under that program, described by The Times of May 10, “the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail are automatically sent to the Department of Homeland Security and compared with prints in the agency’s databases. If officials discover that a suspect is in the country illegally, or is a non-citizen immigrant with a criminal record, they may seek to deport the person.”
Illinois’ Governor Pat Quinn recently stated he no longer wants to participate in the program. Governor Paterson in 2010 put New York State in the program and 24 of New York’s 62 counties signed on to be part of it. The City of New York did not join in the program. A group of 38 New York state lawmakers recently sent a letter to Governor Cuomo, urging him to opt out of the program. Nineteen members of the New York City Council had already sent a similar letter.
When I was Mayor, I issued three executive orders which all three mayors after me reissued. They were, one, that illegal immigrants could safely go to New York City Health and Hospitals facilities if in need of medical care without fear of the agency turning their names over to immigration authorities. Two, that illegal aliens could safely send their children to public school with the same assurance; and third, that if an illegal alien was the victim of a crime, he or she could report it to the police, and unless the illegal alien was guilty of some crime other than being in the U.S. illegally, he or she could similarly bank on that same assurance.
I did it because it was the exercise of common sense. It also protected the public at large from disease, while providing a humanitarian response, and protected the public from the criminals preying on illegal aliens. The criminals assumed illegal aliens wouldn’t report crimes, giving them additional security and allowing them to prey on others as well. With respect to school, the United States Supreme Court had ruled long ago that all children, including those illegally in the country, had a right to attend public school.
What I did is what a liberal with sanity should do. However, I do not believe in our country having open borders. I believe in expanding legal immigration in the numbers allowed to enter the U.S. as permanent residents encouraged to apply for U.S. citizenship. The current number entering the U.S. legally each year is about one million, made up of 750,000 permanent immigrants and 250,000 refugees.
Those who advocate the legalization of the illegal aliens now in the country would have our fellow Americans believe that we who oppose amnesty are anti-immigration. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are anti-illegal-immigration. I know of no country, including Mexico on our southern border, which has open borders. The European Union has open borders between members of that alliance. If the President wants to offer legislation to allow the countries of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. making up NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) to end all immigration barriers, it should be seriously discussed. For one thing, how would Mexico and Canada react to such a proposal?
The advocates of illegal aliens conjure up visions of those defending our borders wanting to put illegal aliens on box cars in trains to ship them home. Again, no one advocates that. Many such as myself advocate punishing severely the American employer who willfully hires an illegal alien – not doing the checks that are available to validate job applicants. Those employers who willfully violate the law should be prosecuted and, if convicted, sent to prison. I believe giving a mandatory six months in jail for a second conviction, the first being subject to substantial monetary fines, will quickly end the employer abuse. If no jobs are available to illegal aliens, they will go home on their own. It is estimated that one million illegal aliens did go home as a result of the recent Great Recession. Indeed, I suggest we offer to pay their way home.
I am not for any city or state becoming a sanctuary as some cities proclaimed they were during the Vietnam War – I was opposed to our being involved in that war. As a member of Congress from the Silk Stocking district in Manhattan, I went to Canada and interviewed American draft dodgers and deserters, came back and advocated amnesty for them which was hooted at by many, but was provided by President Carter by executive order six months later.
I do not advocate amnesty for illegal aliens because that will simply encourage more illegal aliens to seek to violate the law and cross our borders. We granted amnesty in 1986 under the Simpson-Mazzoli law. That did not stop an increase in illegal immigration.
Again, I am for increasing legal immigration. We should double or triple it if the facts so warrant. It will keep our nation young and vibrant.
These are the thoughts of a liberal with sanity.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.