I’ve refrained from commenting on the recent McCain-Kennedy compromise on illegal immigration (The “Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007”) until now. Frankly, the hysteria that has surrounded the issue these past few months has overwhelmed reasonable discussion. Still, there’s been quite a bit of movement on this over the weekend that’s worth commenting on.
My short position on this, to recap what I’ve discussed in greater detail in numerous posts: I’m culturally conservative enough to want to stop illegal immigration 1) because it’s illegal and 2) a too-rapid influx from one non-assimilating culture is dangerous. Practically, however, I think 1) there’s nothing short of shooting them on sight that’s going to allow us to stop them from crossing a 2000 mile border with no real natural barriers and 2) there’s a huge demand for their labor or they’d stop coming.
N.Z. Bear has done yeoman’s work in creating a blog-friendly, annotated, version of the bill, which will allow easier quoting and linking of controversial passages. The Heritage Foundation is also at work creating policy papers and the like. Perhaps they will help get more reasoned analysis going.
On the more animated front, Mark Steyn has an amusing column that dubs the bill “capitulation,” blames it for too many Hispanics going to school in Long Island, the D.C. sniper, and the 9/11 attacks. Hugh Hewitt has written nine posts and counting. John Hawkins is threatening to (Google) bomb any Republican senator who votes for the bill in something called “Project Payback.”
Mark Tapscott, who disagrees with me on the issue, has a sober take on it in today’s Examiner editorial:
That bipartisan immigration “reform” bill, crafted during secret negotiations led by President Bush, Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. John McCain, combines a Republican desire for cheap labor with a Democratic vision of cheap votes. The result is a stubborn refusal to halt illegal immigration, one of the most serious problems facing the United States. By granting legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, this legislative chimera would make securing our borders even harder than it is now.
The Senate plan hinges on issuing three categories of renewable Z visas for skilled temporary and agricultural workers (and in many case their families as well), with provisions that would supposedly prevent document fraud. But the new visa program would be run by the same bureaucracy that has proven incapable of enforcing existing immigration laws. And if it’s impossible now to “round’em up and deport all 12 million of them” — as we incessantly hear — why should anybody believe the immigration bureaucrats will be able to find the millions of illegals to make sure they jump through all the new hoops?
The Senate bill essentially offers amnesty for illegal workers who show up to pay a $5,000 fee, promise to learn English, go back to visit their home countries, and then wait up to 13 years here for a green card. However, the real risk of being sent home is extremely low; only a fraction, for example, of the 600,000 illegals who are convicted felons being held in state and federal prisons will ever be deported. Even with generous incentives, many illegals will find it easier simply to maintain the status quo.
He’s largely right, I think, on both the motivations and the substance. I fully agree that all the sops to the “border security” faction are obvious shams with little chance of actually working.
Why, then, am I not more upset? Because we have to judge political outcomes based on what’s possible rather than on what we would ideally desire. Tapscott writes,
By rewarding illegal entry with a visa and eventual citizenship, this bill is an affront to the millions of legal immigrants who show enough respect for American values to stand in line and wait their turn. Few immigrants will be stupid enough to do so in the future.
He’s right, of course. But here’s the rub: That’s already the case.
I’m reminded of the famous debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot on the “Larry King Show” over NAFTA. Perot kept showing photos and citing studies about horrible conditions in border towns to warn about what would happen if NAFTA passed. But, given that he already had the photographs, he was merely documenting the status quo.
Illegal aliens are here by the millions now. They’re flouting the law now. It’s unfair to those who abide by the law now.
We have, in recent years, toughened immigration law to require employers to be more stringent in verifying that those they hire have a right to work in this country. For a variety of reasons, that hasn’t worked. It’s spawned a cottage industry making it relatively easy to get fake documents. Further, the federal government lacks the manpower to check the records of every single person hired in the country. Nor, frankly, would we want to live in a country with an army of immigration cops harassing business owners every day with demands to show them papers on all their workers.
Our border is too long to effectively patrol and, again, do we really want a Border Patrol of tens of thousands ready to shoot people who wade across the Rio Grande or climb over a theoretical wall? Or, for that matter, to spend billions in a bound-to-fail effort to keep people on the other side of a Tortilla Curtain despite demonstrable demand for their services here?
As a matter of principal, we should either enforce the law or change it. It seems quite evident that we’re not going to — and probably can’t — enforce it. Changing it therefore seems prudent. Granting visas to people who are going to be here anyway, so that we can more easily track their activities and collect taxes from them, strikes me as better than nothing.