It seems that immigration, legal and
illegal, is too numerically overwhelming for the federal government to handle
properly. Yesterday in this column I praised the Department of Labor
(DOL) and Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao for the decision to change the wage
and visa application rules governing farm laborers in an attempt to reduce the
demand for illegal immigrants. This was a positive step after the debacle
last year of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, in which
Americans were told that illegal immigrants live among us in the shadows and that
the Federal Government has no way of knowing who they are. DOL’s
proposed changes acknowledge that most of the agricultural workers in this
country are illegal immigrants.
But how are Americans supposed to trust
the federal government to enforce the border and deport those who arrive
illegally when it is incapable of checking those who are here legally?
This is an egregious problem, one highlighted earlier this month when President
George W. Bush’s administration announced that it will grant permanent
residency status to tens of thousands of legal immigrants without first
completing their required background checks against the Federal Bureau of
Investigation investigative files because the backlog of legal immigration
cases is too large and growing rapidly.
The change in status will affect an
unknown number of applicants whose cases otherwise are complete but whose FBI
checks have been pending for more than six months. The backlog has left
many legal immigrants in limbo. I applaud these immigrants for following
the rules and applying to live here legally. They are not the problem; the federal government is.
Part of the problem is that the system of
background checks is inefficient. The FBI stores more than 86 million
investigative files which electronically complete the background checks for
about 90 percent of legal immigrants within three months. The remaining 10 percent can
take years to finish through paper-based searches for any mention of an
applicant’s name in records stored in 265 locations across the country.
What type of signal does this send to
those who may be criminals in their home country or who seek to destroy America
for ideological reasons? The signal is loud and clear: those with
criminal records, including violent ones, or those who would mount terrorist
attacks against us can beat the system because the federal government is too
uncoordinated and lethargic to check their backgrounds. This is a serious
threat to our national security, not because all these legal immigrants have
criminal intentions but because it only requires a few to slip through to wreak
havoc on our cities and country.
The decision to grant permanent residency
status to tens of thousands of legal immigrants without first completing their
required background checks is a disservice to American citizens, as much as the
lengthy wait period is for legal immigrants, many of whom may have jobs and
families in limbo hinging on the outcome of their residency status. The federal government is failing both groups.
Congress has approved more money to speed
the FBI name checks. Unfortunately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services, the agency handling the background checks for permanent residency
status, plans to use the increased funding to hire more FBI contractors.
As has come to be expected from the federal government, this is an outdated way
to handle the matter. What USCIS should do is mount an intensive campaign
with the FBI to make all FBI files electronic, so that it will no longer
require so much time and manpower to dig through paper files across the
country. But such a common-sense idea rarely occurs to bureaucrats.
The federal government needs to get a
handle on immigration, both legal and illegal, and to do so soon. It has
failed the American people on this issue more than any other and will continue
to fail unless we demand an immediate overhaul of the current system. And
that does not mean more bureaucracy.