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A Nation of (Legal) Immigrants

by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 4/25/07

In search of domestic accomplishments to partially compensate for the successes in the Middle East that have so far eluded him, President George W. Bush has redirected his attention to the long-festering problem of illegal immigration. He hopes to enlist bipartisan support from those who favor a comprehensive approach emphasizing immigration policy reform and a path to citizenship for illegals already here as opposed to conservative-led demands for heavy emphasis on enforcement. Mr. Bush’s renewed attention to the problem is welcome but comes much too late to avert the problems already inevitable as a result of his and his recent predecessors’ failures to use existing laws and remedies while the problem was still solvable. They had the means to do so but lacked the political courage.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

The so-called Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 promised much but did more harm than good. Enacted during the Reagan years, it sought to stop the hiring of illegals by increased enforcement targeted at employers. Instead, it created a booming cottage industry in the manufacture and sale of counterfeit identity documents. Employers who challenged the authenticity of fake ID and sought further proof of legal status risked being sued for discrimination. Immigration advocates and activists had ample access to legal assistance in this regard.

The political correctness that was already permeating our society doomed compliance with the act. Schools, hospitals and local police jurisdictions threw up their hands and said it was the federal government’s problem, not theirs.  It was always someone else’s problem. This attitude was supported by laws and policies which discouraged or forbade pursuing proof of legal residency. Questions which could be asked by any lender or credit card issuer were somehow inappropriate for school administrators or police officers to ask. Hospitals were required by law to administer emergency care, defined broadly, to anyone regardless of residency status.The 1986 “reform and control” legislation became a farce and was widely and justifiably viewed as an act of amnesty for the illegals already here. It encouraged millions more to enter illegally hoping for future rounds of amnesty under the guise of reform.

Subsequent administrations, those of Bush the elder and Bill Clinton, allowed the problem to grow. Under Bush II, it has grown geometrically to the point were it is no longer amenable to any easy solutions.  He has, of course, blamed Congress for failing to provide broad immigration reform legislation, ignoring the fact that the most pressing problem was illegal immigration policy, not legal immigration policy, and that there were plenty of laws already on the books to deal with it. Still, Mr. Bush persists in the mistaken notion that nothing can be done without comprehensive immigration policy reform, including a path to citizenship for the 12 million or so already here illegally. But common sense tells us that that a logical first step is to stem the flood and gain control of our borders to prevent the problem from getting worse before we institute policy reforms designed to actually facilitate entry. To reverse that priority is rather like saying that our current laws aren’t being obeyed so let’s change them and, while we’re at it, reward the lawbreakers with a path to citizenship.

To be sure, heightened enforcement efforts are producing some results, including some very negative press and protests decrying the alleged separation of parents from their children, many of whom are anchor babies, citizens by virtue of having been born in the United States to parents here illegally. Recent sanctions against employers are long overdue but, like all other federal efforts so far to combat illegal immigration, constitute a case of too little, too late. Half-baked proposals for comprehensive reform and for dealing with the illegals already here will probably not meet with much more success than the failed 1986 act did. Even if they should, results won’t come fast enough to avert mammoth problems. All proposals will likely founder on the issue of providing a path to citizenship. A majority of Americans polled now favor such a path but they are widely divided over the route that path should take and how difficult it should be to follow.

Some of the proposals are hopelessly naïve. Paying a steep fine plus back taxes, learning English, returning to country of origin and applying through legal channels sounds swell to reformers but not to illegals who live from payday to payday and send most of their earnings home. And how is that process going to be monitored and applied to 12 million people when we don’t even know who or where they are? Media reports of such proposals precipitated noisy protests and demonstrations in Los Angeles, suggesting that illegals and their advocates aren’t exactly embracing this particular path to citizenship.

Putting enforcement of existing laws first may not be the politically correct approach, but it does have the advantage of being at least somewhat effective, claims by immigration activists and advocates for illegals to the contrary notwithstanding. To be sure, it isn’t the ultimate solution. That would be improving the Mexican economy to point where it could provide enough work for its citizens so that that they wouldn’t feel compelled to break another country’s laws to find it in order to feed their families. Effective enforcement is, however, a necessary beginning. But to be truly effective, enforcement efforts must provide for (1) increased sanctions on employers, including householders, who knowingly hire illegals; (2) a mandatory, tamper-proof ID card which would also help prevent identity theft; (3) even greater efforts to secure the border, including more use of fencing and technology, to help discourage violations in the first place; and (4) well-publicized mandatory incarceration of those committing more than one border violation.   CRO

copyright 2007 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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