Enforcement Deceptive in Immigration Bill

Exit-tracking system mandated since '96, but promise not kept; Bill requires system only at sea and airports, not land borders

By CIS April 2013

Exit-tracking system mandated since '96, but promise not kept; Bill requires system only at sea and airports, not land borders

WASHINGTON, DC (April 17, 2013) — The public doesn’t believe Congress will enforce the kind of immigration enforcement measures included in the new Schumer/Rubio immigration bill. After decades of deliberate non-enforcement, the political class has undermined its credibility and created a major trust gap. A recent poll published by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that just 27% of Americans expressed confidence that immigration laws would be enforced in the event of a legalization, while 70 percent indicated that they were not confident immigration law would be enforced.

One provision in the newly released Senate immigration bill, S. 722, exemplifies the reasons for this trust gap. Sponsors of the bill tout its toughness on enforcement by pointing to its mandate to develop an exit-tracking system for foreign visitors. This is important because perhaps 40 percent of illegal aliens entered legally but remained beyond their allotted time, and only an effective check-out system can identify those who don't leave when they're supposed to. The completion of the exit system is one of the goals, or "triggers", that has to be met before an amnesty beneficiary can upgrade from “provisional” status to a full green card and then citizenship. Without it illegal immigration would simply resume after an amnesty, ensuring this same debate a decade from now.

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But Congress mandated the development of such a system in 1996, and has reiterated that demand five more times over the past 17 years. Sponsors of the bill offer no explanation why the seventh promise to complete the system will be any more likely to be honored than the first six, especially since there is virtually no political incentive to do so, the illegal population having been amnestied within months of the bill's signing. What's more, the new bill mandates exit-tracking only at airports and seaports, even though the majority of foreign visitors come across our land borders.

"This is the kind of chicanery that justifiably feeds public skepticism," said Mark Krikorian, the Center's executive director. "A focus on keeping past enforcement promises, before arguing for amnesty, would be an important step toward regaining public trust."

See the report from a 2010 Center symposium on "The Politics and Practicalities of Exit Controls" at http://www.cis.org/exit-panel.