Restoring the Rule of Law: Reflections on Fixing the Immigration System and Exploring Failed Policy Choices

Katherine L. Vaughns, University of Maryland School of Law

Document Type Article



This paper reflects on issues surrounding the current debate about immigration reform, and explores failed policy choices over the past twenty years. It sets the stage first by providing a historical perspective, and noting how the events of 9/11 have inexorably changed the rhetoric and tone of the political and policy debates over immigration. It speculates about legislative choices and governmental inaction that have impeded past reform efforts and/or contributed to the current situation, thus undermining the rule of law; and observes that the undocumented immigrant population working and residing in this country today, which some lawmakers have labeled lawbreakers, are essentially here because of these past policy choices, making Congress and the federal government largely complicit in this present state of regulatory distress and legislative disarray. Although all agree that the system is broken, failure to reach an informed, rational consensus on how to fix it has widespread consequences across a host of legal, social, political and economic spectrums. The first part of the paper provides background for the current debate; the second part underscores the importance of legislators making the right choices. Immigration regulation in this country has reached crisis proportions, yet congressional bickering and political posturing has rendered a sound resolution nearly impossible. The House insists on an enforcement only approach which as this paper notes is doomed to failure given the history of past legislative efforts along this line. In the Senate, the most promising legislative initiative offered a more comprehensive approach but falls short of what would constitute a comprehensive approach broadly defined. But more important, failure to consider the practical realities associated with the illegal immigration problem will likely condemn any legislation enacted given the current politically divisive climate. As such, the paper warns that failure to take a more concerted bipartisan and pragmatic approach on comprehensive immigration reform towards a restoration of the rule of law in immigration regulation places the country at risk on a number of levels, including national security.