In today's NY Times piece, John Tierney both calls Bush on his politicking and dismisses the immigration problem as nothing less than fear mongering.
I agree. Both sides of the debate are maneuvering for political points--as usual. Unfortunately, this political jockeying has become an excuse for non-policies or policies that solve imaginary problems--while the real problems remain.
And there are real problems. Securing the border is a real problem that won't be solved by calling in the National Guard. Soldiers with guns along the border will most likely make things worse if not bloody. Those who are currently monitoring the border have already been vocal in their disapproval of such a plan.
I don't know the answer to the border security problem, but one can be found by soliciting input from those, here and abroad, who are currently involved in border control, security, and similar problems. All we need is the leadership to gather the right minds and mine their ideas.
Bush's Guest Worker problem is one of the worse ideas yet. It allows the government to match up workers with employers for a limited time after which they are sent home. Great. Corporate America gets slave labor, allowing them to pay slave wages for jobs which Americans would otherwise do for at least minimum wage. Guess who benefits and guess who loses from that scenario? It continues the abuse of workers that currently exists with illegal aliens to the benefit of the employers and the detriment of American workers. It's no solution at all.
As for amnesty, no one--Republican or Democrat--is proposing amnesty. BushCo is desperately throwing the "amnesty" word at Democrats and trying to make it stick. As usual, it's a diversion, a political ploy and an untruth. Democrats are calling for a path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants. But they aren't proposing to make that path an easy one. Illegals would have to wait in line behind legal immigrants. They would have to learn the language and adhere to a number of commitments and stipulations in order to become citizens. If they don't comply, they can't stay. All in all, it's a rational, humane, reasonable plan. It's anything but "amnesty."
A comprehensive immigration policy should address the problem on its many fronts--starting by fairly addressing illegals who are already here, and then implementing a humane immigration policy for those who aspire to
- Secure the borders
- Make legal immigration easier so illegal immigration becomes unnecessary
- Create a clear, humane, but tough path to citizenship for those already here and for those immigrating legally
- Enforce minimum wages
- Institute a policy of harsh punishment for employers harboring and knowingly employing illegal aliens
Throwing Hawks a Bone
By John Tierney
The New York Times
President Bush promised tonight to regain "full control" of the border with Mexico. He won't, but that's beside the point.
His job last night was not to secure the border but to pretend he could. Like Ava Gardner tending to the germphobic Howard Hughes in his isolation chamber, Bush had to reassure the Minuteman Republicans that they were safely sealed from the perils outside. To Bush's credit, he sounded as if he believed it himself.
"We're a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws," he said firmly, precisely the cover needed by Republicans to vote for sensible reforms.
His plan to send a few thousand National Guard troops to the border is a symbolic gesture, but symbolism is what's needed. Immigrants will find ways to evade the proposed new ID card requirements, as well as the new high-tech sensors at the border, but the ideas sounded good enough on television. Bush's conservative critics accused him of playing political games, but he was just responding in kind to their tactics.
The fixation on "securing the border" is a political — and psychological — problem, not a rational response to a genuine national threat. People living along the border understandably object to strangers' sneaking through their backyard, but why are so many people in the rest of the country obsessed with keeping out foreigners?
The border hawks have two chief arguments, starting with that great debate stopper: Sept. 11. A porous southern border is supposedly no longer tolerable now that terrorists have declared war on America and are threatening even more catastrophic attacks.
But if terrorists are smart enough to plan such an attack, they're smart enough to get into the United States, no matter how many agents and troops are on the Mexican border. If terrorists have the determination to train for years, if they can pay for flight lessons or anthrax or a nuclear bomb, then they can easily bribe or forge their way into America — or waltz in with legitimate visas.
Mohamed Atta did not have to hire a coyote or swim across the Rio Grande. He and the other hijackers all entered the country legally. The 500,000 or so people who manage to sneak in from Mexico each year are a minuscule fraction — about 1 percent — of the tourists and students and other visitors who enter America legally.
Mexico is not the preferred route of the suspected terrorists caught so far because they prefer more convenient options, like coming in from Canada.
Even if the northern border were sealed with the Great Wall of Saskatchewan, there would still be thousands of miles of unsecured coastline — and plenty of drug runners with boats and planes who would have no trouble delivering a terrorist or a suitcase bomb.
The border hawks' other argument is that America must enforce its immigration law or succumb to "mob rule," as one of the Minuteman leaders warned. But for most of the country's history, America allowed essentially unlimited immigration without descending into Hobbesian chaos. The country survived just fine when immigrants were governed solely by the law of supply and demand.
Bush tried a brief dose of economic reality in last night's speech, pointing out that the lure of America for poor Mexican workers "creates enormous pressure that walls and patrols alone will not stop." As he explained, the best way to reduce illegal immigration is to change the law so more people can enter legally.
But that was the rational part of the speech, which Bush knew wasn't enough.
He had to throw in the tough border talk and the new ID cards. He had to deal with the new outbreak of xenophobia, the fear that has always been easy for demagogues to arouse because it's such a basic human instinct.
Distrusting foreigners made evolutionary sense when outside clans threatened to bring in disease and encroach on hunting grounds. It made sense during the thousands of years when towns built walls to stop invaders from plundering their wealth and enslaving their inhabitants.
But the immigrants now coming across the Mexican border do not want to sack our cities. They're not about to pillage our granaries or march home with Americans in chains. They just want to mow our lawns and clean our offices.
They're coming to feed us, not take our food, yet we're demanding that our leaders keep them out. No foreign busboys! No Mexican cooks! Stop them before they grill again!
Photo credits: (1) US President George W. Bush sits in the Oval Office of the White House after addressing the nation on television in Washington, DC. The president ordered up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border, citing an "urgent" need to stem the flow of millions of illegal immigrants into the United States. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski) (2) John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)