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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Immigration Reform Opponents Have Questions to Answer

George Bush, in his proposal to reform the issue of illegal immigration, seems to have done what the election and the Nine Dwarves couldn't -- split the right and shake his base with an outbreak of pragmatic centrism. The day after Bush's proposal for a new guest-worker program and its extension to illegal workers already in the US, the conservatives are lighting up the Internet with dissension and outrage. For instance, the Corner at NRO has several voices all sounding the same alarms: amnesty and surrender, and they're not at all happy about it. So far, very little objection has been made to the concept of a guest-worker program; most of the bandwidth is being eaten up by the idea of allowing those already here to enter the program as a sort of fait accompli.

It's time for a reality check, folks. We have somewhere between 8 to 10 million illegal immigrants (undocumented workers in the PC world, of course), and no way to identify them. What the good and normally rational folks at National Review would have us do is to round them all up and deport them, which sounds like a terrific idea until you start to plan exactly how you go about doing it.

First, we have to find them. That means raids on businesses and homes, demands for documents, interrogations, and endless administrative/judicial proceedings to classify the people arrested. This won't be happening on the desert of Iraq or the hills of Afghanistan -- this will be happening here in the US, and we have due process requirements. How much do you think this will cost? What do you think the effects on our civil rights will be as we try to round up a population that large?

Next, we have to have somewhere to put 10 million people while we wait for their status to be judged and decided. That number exceeds the number of people incarcerated in the US by a factor of at least five. Try to imagine building five times the number of prisons and jails in the US just for this purpose. Or do we build camps to house these people, maybe out in a desert somewhere? Who then guards these camps? Who feeds them while they sit for months waiting for due process to play out? What kind of conditions will these people have to live in while they wait, and what happens when they revolt or prove too unwieldy?

Lastly, just where do we send these people? In order to determine their country of origin, we'd have to have some documentation -- but we don't have any now, because they have no program under which to be documented. We can't just ship them all back to Mexico, because a significant percentage of them aren't Mexican. You may get some cooperation from the deportees themselves, but I wouldn't count on it as a rule.

So now we will have created a situation where we're knocking down doors, rounding up people who we think don't belong here, herding them into camps for deportation to someplace, although we don't know where exactly. If you think Nazi analogies are flowing freely now, just wait; they'll be a lot more accurate under this scenario.

It's all well and good to say that they don't belong here in the first place. I agree with that. They shouldn't have come, and we should have had a better system for dealing with issue a generation ago. We should have insisted on genuine political reform throughout the Americas so that people don't have to come here in droves to earn enough money to eat. There's lots of things that could have and should have been done prior to now, and not just on immigration -- you can play the 'shoulda woulda coulda' game on Islamofascism, too, and argue that we shouldn't be in Iraq and Afghanistan now.

But Bush and Congress aren't paid to be philosophers, they're paid to solve problems and protect and defend the US. The problem is here and it needs to be solved realistically. Under this plan, no one gets a free ride to resident-alien status; they get to be guest workers while they, like everyone else, apply for immigrant status. (If you deported them today, they'd still be allowed to apply for a green card anyway.) It also isn't an "earn your way to legality" program that all the Democrats want to see enacted, a ludicrous idea that continues to reward illegal immigration and provides no mechanism for documentation and supervision.

It's a pragmatic and realistic concept that acknowledges the existence of 10 million people who provide cheap labor for American industries that can't attract native employees. It harnesses them into a system that minimizes their potential for exploitation while allowing us to monitor their status and eases the pressure on our border guards so that they can concentrate on real security issues. It may not be perfect and there may be room to adjust it for better success, but so far it's the best proposal for actually confronting the problem in my lifetime.

Postscript: I know a lot of people I respect and with whom I normally agree do not agree with me, so please read Power Line's take on this issue, while Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost may be still undecided about it. Polipundit says "deport them all," without saying how. California Yankee disagrees with the solution but agrees that Bush is at least bold and visionary, even when he's wrong, at least according to the California Yankee.

On the other hand, some other people agree with me, including Citizen Smash (who lives just south of where I was born and raised), and Professor Bainbridge says, "Let's do it."

06:15 PM in Immigration | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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Mexico's Fox Pleased with Immigration Initiative

Mexican President Vicente Fox expressed his pleasure with George Bush's new immigration initiative today:

President Vicente Fox on Thursday praised the immigration reform proposed by President Bush and claimed it as an achievement for his own administration. But Fox and other Mexican officials indicated the new American proposal did not meet all their goals. "We're going for more. We're going for more," he told reporters during a visit to a shelter for street children.

Fox has repeatedly urged Bush to legalize the millions of Mexicans who cross the border illegally to work in the United States. The money they send home is Mexico's second-largest source of foreign income, behind oil.

No one will be surprised to hear that Fox is happy; almost any change from the status quo has to be an improvement, with the exception of mass expulsion. Fox probably would prefer an amnesty program, but he's not going to get one. We tried that in the 80s, during the last Republican economic expansion, and as some of my e-mail stated, all that occurred was more illegal immigration.

The true causes of illegal immigration are the poor economies of Mexico and Central America and the need for cheap labor for our agricultural industry. Until those two issues are resolved, especially the local economies of the immigrants, then we will continue to see massive waves of workers looking to solve both problems. Either we can realistically address the result while we try to tend to the causes, or we can stick our head in the sands as we have done for decades.

02:40 PM in Immigration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Immigration Reform

George Bush took another bold and controversial step, this time challenging his base on the subject of immigration reform:

Saying the United States needs an immigration system "that serves the American economy and reflects the American dream," President Bush Wednesday outlined an plan to revamp the nation's immigration laws and allow some eight million illegal immigrants to obtain legal status as temporary workers.

"Over the generations, we have received energetic, ambitious optimistic people from every part of the world. By tradition and conviction, our country is a welcoming society," he said. "Every generation of immigrants has reaffirmed the wisdom of remaining open to the talents and dreams of the world. As a nation that values immigration and depends on immigration, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud," he said. "Yet, today, we do not."

So far, what I've seen and read on Bush's new immigration initiative is long on concept and short on details, but it at least acknowledges two truths: there are some jobs that Americans won't perform at almost any pay rate, let alone at an economically realistic rate, and that we can't deport 8 million people who we can't easily locate. The problem on the right are too many people who scream for "law enforcement" directed at a huge number of people who are mostly interested in keeping their heads down and working hard for next to nothing. In a way, it's sort of like our nation's drug problem: we have a huge agricultural industry that relies on cheap labor. We can't get it here, but no one wants to allow nearly enough people across the border (as permanent residents) to work the fields, so we wind up with a smuggling problem of monstrous proportions. The border patrol tries interdiction, which fails miserably across a 1,500-mile border.

From what the President said, this is not a Carteresque (or Reaganesque, for that matter) amnesty program, as the new guest-worker program won't lead to permanent-resident status. We allow workers from other countries to temporarily migrate to the US to take the jobs Americans won't do. It's the bracero program redux, although instead of being seasonal, it allows for a maximum stay for six years. After that point, either the worker would have to already have a green card for immigration or return home.

You may ask, what if they don't go home? What's the difference between that and what we have now? For one, the workers would be documented, making them a lot easier to track down, and employers would have no more incentive to hire undocumented workers as the labor cost would be the same and the risk would be much greater. This eliminates the problems of the coyotes who are little better than slavers, taking people across the border in inhumane conditions and forcing them to live in bondage until their debts are repaid. (If you've lived in the Southwest, you know that more than once a year you read about dozens of people dying from asphyxiation in a truck or van that transported people like cattle across the border.) Documentation greatly increases our national security by making sure we have a paper trail for everyone who crosses into the US. Finally, the border patrol can then focus on true security issues rather than being overwhelmed by people who flood the borders to support our own agricultural industry.

I can't say too much about the specifics yet; I'll be very curious to see exactly how this will be implemented. I do think that Bush has the concepts mostly correct. I also applaud his boldness. It could have been very easy to let this wait until after the election, but it also would have been the wrong thing to do.

06:30 AM in Immigration, Presidential Election | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack