Forget Undocumented Migrants – The Real Immigration Threat is Flying into JFK

December 18, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

As Washington debates the legality of an Executive Order on immigration the border remains wide open for millions of arrivals from dozens of countries. 

After being hammered in the midterms President Obama and the Democrats have hit back with the biggest play since introducing the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) in 2010. In a national address on 20 November Obama announced that he would bypass Congress and introduce immigration reforms in the United States by Executive Order.

Specifically, Obama promised undocumented immigrants that if they had “lived in the US for more than five years if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes — you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Predictably, reaction to the President’s plan was vocal and immediate. Senator Ted Suburn (R-OK) told USA Today that he had real concerns about the impact of the plan, stating “The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation. You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy. … You could see violence.”

Democrats were more positive about the plan with Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) typically in his support for Obama’s proposed reforms. “These actions direct our money and personnel toward taking dangerous undocumented immigrants off our streets and securing our borders,” Garamendi told AD.com, “They focus on protecting Americans from harm instead of tearing apart families who are otherwise law-abiding.”

Obama is not the first President to seek immigration reform via Executive Order. Indeed, Republican President Herbert Hoover slashed immigration by executive decree in 1930 in an effort to protect US jobs. By 1931 immigration to the US was down by 90% and for the very first time in US history, more people left the country than arrived. In more recent years by George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan used Executive Orders to reform immigration, though neither move was as far reaching as Obama’s plan.

Gage Skidmore

Source: Gage Skidmore

Some, including Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), have been critical of any president – Democrat or Republican – using Executive Orders to legislate by stealth. There has even been a call by Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) for the impeachment and imprisonment of Obama for his immigration move, though only the most partisan Republicans can envision the former, and few sensible people of any political persuasion can imagine the latter.

Yet while Capitol Hill and the rest of the country debate the merits and legality of Obama’s immigration plans, the borders of the country remain largely open for millions. Unbeknownst to many Americans, citizens of almost one in five of the countries in the world have the right to arrive at the border without a visa and providing little more than their name and address to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service.

For millions of people arriving in the US each year with passports issued by countries including France, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who promise that their visit is only for business or pleasure, and who assure the Department of Homeland Security that they’ll be gone in 90 days, the process of entering the United States is as simple as filling out an online form and paying a small charge.

CBP

Source: CBP

 The system is called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) and requires only the most basic information from anyone who applies to be entered into the dastandar online form. Simply add your name, date of birth, passport information, flight information, and declare you don’t have gonorrhea, leprosy, or tuberculosis (Ebola hasn’t made the list yet!) and you are approved to enter the country in seconds. Convenient? Sure. But it leaves the United States open to infiltration by all sorts of uncomfortable characters hiding behind the traditionally good relations in the US has had with their home country.

The United States knows less about the people arriving at its borders pre-approved by the ESTA website than those same people typically share with their Facebook friends. This leaves the country open to obvious threat, threats that are more real than many imagine. As a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report explained, while the United States spends billions attempting to police and secure the southern border with Mexico and to stem the flow of undocumented arrivals from Latin America, “more than 40 percent of all illegal aliens… enter the US legally through the front door and then never leave in spite of their visa expiration.”

CBP2

Source: CBP

 Obama’s immigration reforms are set to impact the approximately 11 million undocumented migrants living in the United States today. In comparison, more than 10 million ESTA-bearing travellers arrive in the United States every single year. While lawmakers debate just how much latitude the President will be given on immigration and how much cooperation he can expect from Congress in the next two years if he refuses to negotiate, the doors remain wide open at JFK, O’Hare, and LAX, and who can really say for sure who is walking through?

Should Washington be focusing on immigration reform or national security? Tell us in comments below.