In April, Senate Democrats unveiled an immigration reform proposal that stresses security and provides a pathway to legalization for some 10.8 million people in the country illegally. Haven't we been down this road before?

There’s a scene in my favorite movie, Casablanca. Shown up by French expatriates, the Nazis order corrupt police Capt. Renault to close Rick’s Cafe on any pretense. Blowing his whistle, Renault declares he’s “shocked-shocked!-to discover gambling” at the nightclub. Seconds later, a waiter brings Renault his winnings.

I was reminded of that scene recently as I read of Jose Humberto Gonzalez, former human resources manager at Howard Industries’ transformer assembly plant in Laurel, MS. In August 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the plant, detaining 595 illegal immigrants. It was the largest enforcement action in the agency’s history.

Several illegal workers were convicted of identity theft. Hundreds were deported. In December 2009, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to conspiracy. His sentencing, scheduled for March, was postponed, but Gonzalez faces up to five years in prison. Incredibly, Gonzalez was the only company official charged. I can only imagine how many Howard executives were “shocked-shocked!- to discover” undocumented workers at the plant.

Outrage over Arizona’s controversial immigration law has brought the issue of reform to the forefront. In April, Senate Democrats unveiled a reform proposal that stresses security and provides a pathway to legalization for some 10.8 million people in the country illegally.

We’ve been down this road before. In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law prohibited hiring illegal immigrants, required employers to attest to their workers’ immigration status, and granted amnesty to certain illegal immigrants who entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1982.

Rather than curb hiring of undocumented workers, the law encouraged it. Poorly guarded borders, lax enforcement of immigration laws, and readily available fake identification have enabled illegal immigrants-many of whom arrive with visas-to enter the workforce with impunity.

Proponents of unfettered immigration say undocumented workers are needed to fill jobs that Americans won’t. However, that’s disingenuous. A more accurate statement is that employers need illegal immigrants because they’re unwilling to pay decent wages or benefits.

Other supporters have ulterior motives. Politicians see expanding rolls of Hispanic voters as an exploitable demographic. Mexican President Felipe Calderon claims his country’s economy depends on money sent home by migrants.

Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 9.9 percent, and cash-strapped states like California and Illinois bear the costs of providing education, healthcare and other services for millions of noncitizens.

Let me be clear. I do not oppose immigration. As the grandson of Italian immigrants, I have no wish to be hypocritical. Nevertheless, the nation can only absorb so many people at a time. Moreover, rewarding some immigrants for breaking the law is unfair to those who follow the rules. Real immigration reform must include tighter border security, a better method of determining the number of employment-based visas, and a reliable and efficient employment eligibility verification system.