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Debate Looks at Immigration Laws and Citizenship

A recent debate sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and moderated by Robert MacNeil examined the current laws dealing with immigration and the possible plans to address the twelve million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S.

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    Finally tonight, what to do about the 12 million illegal immigrants presently in the United States. The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia sponsored a debate on the topic for its latest big issues debate. Former NewsHour anchor Robert MacNeil moderated.

    The participants, in the order you'll hear them speak, are Mark Krikorian, Tamar Jacoby, Vernon Briggs, and Eliseo Medina. Here's an excerpt on enforcement of immigration laws.


    Immigration enforcement has three layers: overseas, at the border, and inside the country. And overseas, with regard to issuing visas — because, remember, from a quarter to a half of the illegal population got visas and then just never left.

    And then, at the border — again, not just the Border Patrol, but the crossing points where people fraudulently try to get through.

    And then, most importantly, the part that we've neglected the most, which is interior enforcement, preventing illegal immigrants from being able to get jobs, driver's licenses, et cetera.


    How do you do that?


    We are, in fact, making some real progress there. In 1986, we made it illegal for the first time to be hiring an illegal alien. But we didn't have a means for employers to really know who was legal and who wasn't.

    Now we have technology developing. There's a voluntary online system where a new hire's Social Security number, name, and date of birth are verified.

    Doing a better job of that kind of hygiene in the labor market, making sure that people who provide Social Security numbers are really the ones that deserve those numbers, and that others are not allowed to use them and not allowed to be employed, can have an enormous effect in turning the magnet of jobs off and making it as difficult as possible to live here as an illegal alien.


    And producing the attrition you think would result?


    We're seeing it work now.


    I believe as strongly as Mark Krikorian that we need effective immigration enforcement. We need immigration enforcement on the border, and we need immigration enforcement in the workplace.

    But it has to go with an adequate legal supply of workers. The point is that these workers are good for our economy and we pretend it's — we need about 1.5 million a year. We only let in a million.

    Once we bring the quotas into line with what the market generates, then we should enforce that. And we should enforce it before, but enforcement goes with realistic quotas.

    So we get away from a nudge-nudge, wink-wink system, where we have unrealistic quotas that we know we don't really enforce, and we get realistic laws that we stick to like we mean it.


    How can you have enforcement through the Social Security system, when the Social Security card is demonstrably so easy to counterfeit?


    Well, I think, ultimately, we're going to have to get a counterfeit-proof identification card of some sort to be used in — and hopefully it will be partially the Social Security card, but it's going to have to have biometric identifiers. It's going to be a transition that will require people to have photographs.

    I mean, I have in my pocket a card, a Cornell faculty card. And the back of it, it says I am required to carry that card at all times when I'm on the campus of Cornell University. Every student carries that card.

    So this idea that somehow I.D. cards are a big attack on civil liberties is a pure myth. But that's what's holding it up right now.


    It is absolutely ludicrous to say giving everybody a national identification card is going to be the solution. The solution is that we have is that, first, enforcement-only has failed. We have been throwing money at this problem every year without success.

    We are now spending somewhere in the vicinity of $8 billion on border enforcement without success. That is going to double once we start messing around with the walls and all of these other things.

    I think that, in order for us to succeed, we need to be comprehensive in approach. You need to legalize people. You need to deal with the question of employers and the hiring. You need to also allow for a way for people who come here legally in the future.

    Then we can start talking about a system that works. That's why we are here saying the law is not working. We've got to fix it.


    The Miller Center National Discussion and Debate Series airs on PBS. Check your local listings for the time.

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