While the country is focused on the neck-and-neck presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Democratic pols in Washington are working furiously behind the scenes on another agenda.
Democrats are pushing hard for an amnesty that would shift the immigration status of as many as 3.4 million from illegal aliens to legal residents. No Congressional vote would be held; the amnesty would be attached to a year-end spending bill.
The measure would reward illegal aliens with the biggest prize of all - a green card that leads to American citizenship.
The Democrats have given a cozy name to their bill. Called the "Latino Fairness and Immigration Act," the bill is actually unfair to everyone except the illegal aliens who benefit from it.
Hard-working Americans, law-abiding Americans, Americans who want their children to have a decent education today and a bright future tomorrow, all suffer.
Amnesty makes a mockery of our immigration laws and insults immigrants who have come to America legally. The message amnesty sends is clear: Just get here and, sooner or later, a blanket amnesty will be granted and you'll be home free.
The flaws of amnesty are detailed in an Immigration and Naturalization Service report, "1986 Immigration Amnesty Increased Illegal Immigration." The report has not been released to the public, but was subpoenaed by Rep. Lamar Smith who is one of the opposition leaders to the amnesty proposal
In 1986, the Immigration and Control Reform Act granted a so-called "one-time only" amnesty. About 2.7 million people received lawful permanent residence in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of the amnesties contained in the IRCA.
But the 1986 amnesty didn't solve the problem of illegal immigration. INS figures show that by the beginning of 1997 a huge new population of illegal aliens, about 5 million, had replaced the old.
After the amnesty, according to the INS, the flow of illegal aliens increased dramatically as relatives illegally flocked to the U.S. to join their amnestied family members. In the late 1980s, 800,000 came to the U.S. illegally each year. By the 1990s, the total dropped but was still over 500,000 annually.
The INS report demonstrates the link between legal and illegal immigration. Between 1987 and 1996, 1.3 million green cards were given out to illegal aliens as part of their transition to legal status. During the same period, only 335,000 illegal aliens were deported.
The ratio of 4-1 green cards to deportees and the continued arrival of 500,000 illegal aliens annually are proof that the U.S. has no control over its borders. Again, the message is clear: Just get to America and the hardest part of your journey to citizenship is over.
Two other reports confirm that amnesties add social and economic burdens to the U.S. An INS report on the legalized alien population stated that after 10 years in the U.S., the average amnestied illegal alien had only a seventh-grade education and an annual salary of less than $9,000 a year. Of that $9,000, $500 is sent to his homeland.
In May 1997, the Center for Immigration Studies report, "Measuring the Fallout: The Cost of the IRCA Amnesty After 10 Years," found that the total net cost of the amnesty to American taxpayers after a decade is nearly $80 billion. This total represents the direct and indirect costs of services and benefits to the ex-illegal aliens minus their tax contributions.
The attack point in the fight against illegal immigration is not just the border. The U.S. has to focus on the root cause of what attracts illegal aliens in the first place - the short-term promise of jobs and the long-term likelihood of green cards.
As tens of thousands of illegal aliens cross the border in search of jobs, employers who hire them hold down wages for poor Americans.
As many as 5 million illegal aliens are in today's work force. They dominate industries such as poultry processing, meatpacking and restaurant services.
Those jobs were once solid blue-collar positions. They paid union salaries, offered benefits and pensions. But, according to the National Academy of Sciences, once illegal, unskilled workers from Mexico and the rest of Latin America stepped in and worked for lower wages, American workers were displaced. Now the standard argument among employers is that Americans won't take menial jobs.
George J. Borjas, a Harvard University professor of public policy said, "If you happen to have the type of job that competes with immigrants, you're often hurt, but if you're a company or an upper-middle-class person who hires immigrants, then you benefit."
Ask yourself who benefits from an amnesty. The answer is the law-breakers who entered the country illegally, the politicians who are looking for an election year boost, big corporations and wealthy individuals.
Now ask who loses in an amnesty. The answer: The working class individual whose job is at risk, the child in the already overcrowded classroom, the commuter forever stuck in traffic, and the homeowner whose community is losing the battle against sprawl.
As this column goes to press, the latest news is that Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, has threatened to single-handedly stand in the way of any amnesty proposals. Gramm says he'll keep the Senate hostage for a week or more if necessary.
At least one of our elected officials knows how bad amnesties are for America.
Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly opinion column since 1988. He can be reached via e-mail.