Dealing with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States is often cast as a choice between two extremes: mass amnesty or mass deportations. The former amounts to capitulation and is not desirable. The latter is not feasible, although illegal immigrants who are apprehended should be removed. Neither approach is necessary.
What is generally ignored in the debate is that mass illegal immigration can be deterred. Illegal immigrants tend to be very rational people. They come and remain here in large numbers because they believe they will benefit and that there is little chance that our laws will be enforced.
The first step must be to eliminate the biggest draw to illegal immigration: employment. Illegal immigrants and employers skirt employment prohibitions with fraudulent or stolen Social Security numbers. E-Verify, an electronic employment verification system, already exists and is highly effective, but its use is voluntary. Such a system should be made mandatory. Knowing that fraudulent documents would be flagged would discourage most illegal immigrants from even applying for jobs.
Many state and local governments sweeten the pot by providing nonessential benefits and services to illegal immigrants. Many others have legislated or de facto sanctuary policies that shield illegal immigrants from detection.
Illegal immigrants are further encouraged to come and remain by the Obama administration's enunciated policy to allow, under the guise of prosecutorial discretion, hundreds of thousands of eligible illegal immigrants to apply for deportation deferrals.
Just as illegal immigrants come and remain for rational reasons, they will leave for rational reasons. If we eliminate the incentives and increase the likelihood of detection and removal, fewer illegal immigrants will come, and more will leave on their own. Over time, the numbers will decline, while the jobs, wages, tax dollars, and security of the American people will be enhanced.