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Associated Press
In this Monday, March 25, 2013 photo, Border Patrol agent Richard Gordon, a 23-year veteran of the agency, walks the border fence in the Boulevard area east of San Diego looking for signs that reveal movement of illegal immigrants in the rugged, mountainous terrain in Boulevard, Calif. For the past 16 years, Gordon has been one of the top "sign-cutters" or trackers in the Border Patrol.

WASHINGTON — Speaking contemporaneously of futile efforts being made to prevent World War II, Winston Churchill said, "When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure."

So it has been in modern America with immigration.

In 1986, concerned about humanitarian and practical challenges involved in deporting three million people who entered the U.S. illegally, Congress and President Ronald Reagan enacted a broad amnesty to be followed by a massive border strengthening to prevent millions more from entering our country illegally.

Problem solved — except, not really.

That's because Congress implemented its 1986 plan in reverse order: It provided amnesty without first securing the border. The amnesty acted as a lure, suggesting that the path to legal U.S. residency and possible citizenship is simply to get here and stick around. Meanwhile, the border itself was not secured.

No wonder recent estimates put the number of people who have entered the U.S. illegally today at 11 million.

We can't go back to 1986, but we can learn from it. No more carrots until the border is closed.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to learn this lesson.

President Obama wants to grant amnesty, including a path to citizenship, without first making the border secure.

In violation of his oath of office, he's refused to enforce all the immigration laws on the books now. Furthermore, in an apparent scheme to spur more illegal immigration, his administration has been running advertisements in Mexico about food stamp availability here, and Obama's allies in the Senate blocked a Republican move to end these ads during the sequester.

Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has even told Congress that the "border has never been more secure."

But just a few years earlier while George Bush was president and she was governor of Arizona, Napolitano declared that a "state of emergency" existed on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Her politics appear to have informed her opinions.

James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation warned in 2010, "for several years, Republicans have chanted a 'secure the border first' mantra. It allowed them to look tough on the illegal immigration issue while dodging the issue of 'comprehensive' reform. It's a bad strategy. It suggests that, if the Obama administration overcomes the 'border first' problem, it will be clear sailing for a push for amnesty."

Carafano identified the loophole the Obama Administration now plans to exploit.

The Administration supports — and the so-called "Gang of 8" immigration legislation includes — giving the executive branch the power to "certify" that the border is secure. Once that certification is in place, green cards can be given to those who came here illegally, and the "path to citizenship" for them can begin.

Recall how quickly Janet Napolitano's view of the border changed from "emergency" to "secure"? Under the "Gang of 8" legislation, the government official who gets to decide if our border is secure is — you guessed it — HHS SecretaryJanet Napolitano.

11 comments on this story

If we don't want a repeat of our 1986 mistake, we can't allow passage of immigration legislation that lets the executive branch determine when the border has been secured.

Furthermore, if such legislation is to include an amnesty, such an amnesty should never be authorized before the border has genuinely been secured — for real. Or we'll just be back where we started, with many millions more entering the country illegally, wondering what to do.

Amy Ridenour is chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative free-market think tank established in 1982.