Nor would it be a “de facto amnesty,” the term the Journal and GOP “reform” enthusiasts apply to the government’s current non-enforcement policy – as a salve to make their de jure amnesty proposals seem more palatable. Distinguishing between more and less severe outlaws is standard law-enforcement practice, the commonsense way in which widespread crime problems are managed. To take an analogous example, the FBI and DEA focus on narcotics traffickers, essentially ignoring illegal drug users. That does not mean the latter have been given amnesty. We still disapprove of their conduct; we just judge it not worth diverting limited prosecutorial attention over, and we calculate that targeting the worse offenders will discourage the lesser ones.

The enforcement focus on employers should be complemented by requiring legal status for social welfare benefits except emergency medical care and elementary education – the latter of which is required by the Supreme Court’s wayward ruling in Plyler v. Doe (1982). (Again, if I had my druthers, the states would have more discretion over what benefits they chose to open to illegal aliens – as long as they could not spread the costs on to other states.) Besides tending to border enforcement, we should, as Mark Krikorian argues, be pushing employers to use the E-Verify system to ensure that alien applicants are legally eligible to work. We should be tracking the border exit as well as the border entry of aliens. And I would adopt Steven Malanga’s proposal to reduce family “chain” migration and shift toward “skills-based” immigration.

The point is that, although we should not gratuitously harass illegal aliens, neither should we encourage them. In the vast majority of cases – i.e., excepting children brought here through no fault of their own by their illegal alien parents – they made a willful choice to enter and remain here in violation of our laws. It is their responsibility to conform their behavior to our laws, not ours to conform our laws to their behavior.

In any event, I’m not saying I’d never consider some kind of legal status – though certainly not citizenship – for some categories of illegal aliens. I’m saying get back to me in five or ten years, after bipartisan Washington has proved (a) it is serious about enforcing the immigration laws; (b) it has substantially reduced the population of illegal aliens; (c) it is cooperating with, rather than punishing, states that enforce the law; (d) it is prioritizing assimilation; and (e) it is decidedly favoring immigrants who will help our country flourish over those who will be a burden.

The Journal’s editors, who are very smart guys, have a very different position. I can respect it, and even see some valid points in it, without dismissing them as lunatics. I don’t understand why it seems so hard for them to reciprocate.

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Image illustration courtesy /  Gunnar Pippel