The new administration's immigration policy should include a mix of bluster and nuance; there should be both very obvious outdoor activities (more fences, more factory raids, more deportations) and a structured series of quieter, indoor efforts to reduce the income of resident illegals, thus encouraging them to leave on their own.
At the same time, every effort should be used to show that careful enforcement of the immigration law can and will save taxpayer dollars. Our critics are all too busy erecting straw arguments that building a big wall and deporting people will be terribly expensive.
Those commentators never seem to notice that we could get a whole lot more enforcement by changing the rules a bit and using the staff that is already in place, one that is currently, because of the Obama regulations, not as effective as it could be.
The mix that I have in mind should be a popular one with the public. Preventing people from entering by extending the border fence, for example, has always been more popular than deporting illegals who are already here. It is for this reason that there is handsome staffing of the Border Patrol and that much smaller resources are given to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Similarly, efforts to save tax money, by not paying illegal aliens to stay here — a notion that will be novel to many — should also secure instant public approval. Let's look at these proposed outdoors and indoors activities in turn.
As one who spent some time and research grant money on the U.S.-Mexico border, let me suggest a modification of the "big, beautiful wall" approach, also taking into account what can be learned from Israel's well-secured border.
The western half of the border, running from El Paso west to the Pacific, consists mostly of a series of straight lines and it mostly runs through rather flat deserts. The part from El Paso to the east runs along the northern shore of the Rio Grande River, as it wanders along on its stumbling path to the Gulf of Mexico.
Because of the terms the United States gave Texas when it joined the union, most of the land along its border with Mexico is privately held. Much of the border west of El Paso runs through public lands.
It is clearly more cost-effective to build a sturdy fence where the land is flat, the boundary is straight, and where there are fewer complications of private ownership.
These facts argue for the serious fence-building to start west of El Paso and perhaps go all the way to San Diego; this would push the illegal migration to the east, and allow for the transfer of many agents from the western to the eastern half of the border. Parts of this border are protected with substantial, anti-pedestrian fences, parts with anti-auto fences, and parts with no fencing at all. This is not to suggest that no fences be added along the Rio Grande; they certainly should be built in high-traffic areas.
What should the new fence look like? Israel, which is smart about such things — it has to be — puts two tall fences at the border, with a road in between them for its border guards and their cars. Presumably there is lots of electronic gear to support these efforts. Israeli fences are so good that they only have to worry about tunnels underneath them.
Factory raids on establishments with many illegal aliens should be revived all over the country, and arranged and timed in such a way as to secure maximum press attention, both in the United States and in the nations from whence the illegals come. Photos of the illegals returning to their homelands by plane and bus should be made available to the homeland media. Detailed stories about the impact on the raided businesses should be distributed to the trade and to the rest of the U.S. press. Consideration should be given to jailing the managers of the companies raided as well as the detention and fast deportation of the illegal workers.
Hundreds of thousands of employers being forced to decide that hiring illegal aliens is a bad idea would be a major benefit to the nation.
The fence-building should, of course, be accompanied by a much more vigorous deportation policy, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan has argued.
Meanwhile, the government can be making money (i.e., saving it) by ending a series of administrative decisions that require no consultation with Congress. In each of the five cases discussed below billions can be saved simply by executive action. Sometimes the savings will be immediate, sometimes they will be phased in over a period of a couple of years. Three federal departments will be involved.
Homeland Security. Currently there is an administratively created program called Optional Practical Training. It is a disguised foreign worker program for aliens who have secured a degree at an American college (or are in the process of getting one.)
The alums apply not to the government, but to their alma mater for permission to work in this country for up to three years. The colleges say yes, and both the alums and their employers are excused from the payroll taxes that support the Medicare and Social Security programs. The administration should terminate the issuance of new OPT permissions, but allow those in the program to stay until their current permissions end. Alternatively, it could keep the program alive, but force the payment of the payroll taxes; either would eliminate a drain on these funds.
The OPT workers are not now in illegal status, but they would be had the Bush II and Obama administrations not created and then expanded this program out of whole cloth. I estimated several years ago, when the program was smaller, that the trust funds were losing a $1.5 billion a year in this way.
Agriculture. There are situations in the SNAP program (formerly food stamps) in which a mixed family with an illegal alien in it can qualify for benefits when an identical, all-citizen family would not qualify. By identical, I mean the same number of family members and the same income. This odd outcome results from not counting all the illegal alien's wages when figuring out eligibility. This appears to present illegal aliens with a billion-dollar-a year-gift.
The incoming secretary of Agriculture could end this with a stroke of the pen, as the formula was staff-created.
Internal Revenue Service No. 1. For years, we are told informally, IRS has given refunds to workers who apply with one name, their real one, but whose 1040 is accompanied by a W-2 bearing another name, the one attached to their phony Social Security number. If the income numbers on the W-2 and the 1040 matched, that was good enough for a refund.
We got mixed messages when we asked if that practice still flourishes; two sources in IRS told us that this is not allowed, but an income tax preparer said it had been allowed in the past, but did not seem be accepted currently. We have also read that refunds are allowed with a questionable SSN.
The American people would save billions if IRS consistently required valid SSNs for both workers and their dependents. Maybe the president-elect could announce now, before the start of the income tax system "if you have a Social Security number that is phony, don't expect any refunds in my administration."
Internal Revenue Service No. 2. Illegal aliens who have worked with phony SSNs in the past, but who were subsequently granted temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program secured valid SSNs as part of DACA (a program created by the Obama administration). Last year, IRS Commissioner Koskinen said that such aliens could now file retroactive income tax filings (with the form 1040X) to recapture billions in Earned Income Tax Credits that they had not been able to claim in the past because of a lack of a valid SSN, according to the Associated Press.
Terminating this tax amnesty program could probably save billions, and would require little more than an announcement from the incoming commissioner.
Internal Revenue Service No. 3. Similarly, a mid-level IRS official has ruled that yet another tax credit program, the Additional Child Tax Credit, can be secured if one's child has a different form of ID, an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). An illegal alien can secure an ITIN, but only legal residents can get SSNs. A single dependent with an ITIN can provide $1,000 a year to the taxpayer even though the latter is also an illegal. This interpretation of the ACTC program costs the Treasury $4.2 billion a year as one of my colleagues at CIS, Peter Shulkin, reported a few years ago.
The new administration should rule that one cannot get refunds unless your dependent has an SSN and can be proved to be physically in the United States, such as by being enrolled in a U.S. school.
These five are only a sample of the bureaucratically created federal programs that are paying illegal aliens billions and billions a year to stay in the United States.
A little work by the incoming administration could change all this.