America has the most generous legal immigration system in the world: 40 million Americans are foreign born. No one could accuse us of being stingy. Nevertheless, since 1986 Congress has seen fit to bypass this legal system and pass seven amnesties for illegal immigrants, granting legal status to millions who didn’t play by the rules.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of l986 for 2.7 million illegal immigrants was supposed to wipe the slate clean and permanently solve the problem of illegal immigration. Then Congress passed Section 245i Amnesty of l994 for 578,000 illegal immigrants. The section 245i Extension Amnesty of l997 extended the deadlines.

Also in l997, Congress passed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act for certain Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Eastern Europeans. The 10-year impact of this amnesty is estimated at 966,480 immigrants.

Next came the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act for about 125,000 illegal Haitians, whose advocates claimed that Haitians had been discriminated against in the Nicaraguan Adjustment Act. In 2000, Congress passed the Late Amnesty for 400,000 illegal immigrants who claimed they missed out on the l986 amnesty. Finally, Congress passed The Life Act Amnesty for about 900,000 illegal immigrants.

More than 50 amnesty bills have been introduced since 2000, but none has passed. Gone are the days when Congress can sneak amnesty into an appropriations bill and avoid public debate. And now they take pains to avoid the word “amnesty.” Now it’s called “adjustment of status,” “earned legalization” or “comprehensive immigration reform.” But it’s all the same thing: Break the law, stay long enough, pay a trivial fine and the federal government grants you citizenship.

Today we have 11 million illegal immigrants, and Democratic leadership wants to pass three more amnesties legalizing everyone (the DREAM Act, the AGJOBS bill, and “comprehensive immigration reform”), plus their family members who want to join them. And they plan to expand legal immigration visas.

Even with a straight face, we are told the federal government is now ready to “fix” our “broken immigration system” with amnesty for all law breakers. This solution is sold as “fair,” “humane” and most laughable of all, “realistic.”

So let’s just consider the fairness argument in more depth.

We have 21 million unemployed and underemployed Americans looking for work or trying to support their families on part-time work (Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2009). A jaw-dropping 42 percent of unskilled native-born blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics are unemployed. Many of these Americans have exactly the same skill set as illegal immigrants doing menial labor, but employers would have to pay Americans higher wages, and that’s why they prefer illegals.

The data are clear: Minorities, the young and the unskilled are hit the hardest in this recession. To quote Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Statistics, “We are awash in labor — and the working class is getting crushed.” And yet it is these low-skilled workers who will suffer if these amnesties pass.

The liberal, well-educated elite who champion “comprehensive reform” don’t compete with low-skilled workers. Amnesty doesn’t affect them. But for millions of low-skilled native-born and legal immigrant workers, legitimizing the mass importation of low-cost labor takes money out of their pockets. Flooding their labor market is cruel and unfair.

Amnesty will also be very costly for taxpayers. Many amnestied illegal immigrants will qualify for taxpayer-funded social service programs such as housing, food stamps, etc. One of these programs is Medicaid. The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that “during the budget period 2014-2019, in which Medicaid expansion takes effect, covering 3.1 million amnestied immigrants would conservatively cost taxpayers $48.6 billion.” What about the fairness of dumping these costs on American taxpayers?

The record indicates that most amnestied illegal immigrants and their relatives will register as Democrats when they get citizenship, and that’s one reason Democratic leadership pushes amnesty even in the midst of recession. But this plan will backfire. Democrats need to face down the ethnic lobbies in their party and return to their traditional priorities: protecting the jobs of all Americans, especially our most vulnerable citizens, and enforcing the laws of our country impartially These are the values — not ethnic identity politics — that made the Democratic Party a proud force for liberal progress in our history.

Every country in the world sets limits on immigration and enforces those limits on behalf of their people. Despite our great generosity, we are no less entitled to a lawful regulated system. And it’s the job of the federal government to enforce the laws the people have chosen.

Jonette Christian of Holden is a member of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy.