Friday, March 24, 2006

What Part of "Illegal" Don't They Understand?

In the interests of full disclosure I should probably mention that immigration has never been a hot button issue for me. The passions that roil through both sides of this bitter issue divide are ones that I have never really shared. I suppose that's a product of inculcation in the American immigration ethic - "Give me your poor, huddled masses, yearning to be free" - and perhaps also the fact that my paternal grandparents were both processed through Ellis Island, sailing right by Lady Liberty herself. It's awfully difficult to argue for raising immigration barriers when your forebears came from elsewhere themselves.

Illegal immigration is, of course, another matter. Because it's...well, illegal. But while even here I can't get as worked up about it as some others of my ideological stripe, what frankly (and it probably shouldn't) astonishes me is that there can be passionate opposition to simply strengthening and enforcing existing immigration laws. Indeed, some even call for their effective repeal by institutionalizing the practice under the slick label "guest worker program":

[W]e're being warned again that we need huge numbers of ``guest workers'' - meaning unskilled laborers from Mexico and Central America - to relieve American "labor shortages.'' Indeed, the shortages will supposedly worsen as the baby boom retires. President Bush wants an open-ended program. Senators Edward M. Kennedy, D-MA, and [mark this well, those who think, against all evidence, that he's the 2008 GOP presidential frontrunner] John McCain, R-AZ, advocate initially admitting 400,000 guest workers annually. The Senate is now considering these and other plans.

As Robert Samuelson goes on to argue, this latest white flag to the "migration invasion" will fail just as resoundingly as each previous amnesty gambit, and exacerbate the problem rather than ameliorating it:

Guest workers would mainly legalize today's vast inflows of illegal immigrants, with the same consequence: we'd be importing poverty. This isn't because these immigrants aren't hardworking; many are. Nor is it because they don't assimilate; many do. But they generally don't go home, assimilation is slow and the ranks of the poor are constantly replenished. Since 1980, the number of Hispanics with incomes below the government's poverty line (about $19,300 in 2004 for a family of four) has risen 162%. Over the same period, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty rose 3% and the number of blacks, 9.5%.

What we have now - and would with guest workers - is a conscious policy of creating poverty in the United States while relieving it in Mexico. By and large, this is a bad bargain for the United States. It puts stresses on local schools, hospitals and housing; it feeds social tensions. [emphases added]
Versus, say, actually enforcing our immigration laws and controlling our borders. I will readily agree that deporting all twelve million moje las partes posterioras isn't a practical part of that (more's the pity) but certainly stemming the continued influx ought to be doable. After all, Mexican poverty isn't our fault or our problem, and we oughtn't have to extend our "safety net" over the entire continent.

But, to rework a phrase, where there's a way, there isn't necessarily the will. And nowhere is that bewildering perplexity more visible than in the aforementioned immigration debate in Congress this week.

Well, technically it's a debate. The reality is that those who advocate actually enforcing immigration laws and actually controlling our borders are far, far in the minority. Which may be what caused House Immigration Reform Caucus Chairman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) to take the ordnance he had once earmarked for Mecca and launch it all at Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback instead.

But then read Brownback's response, and tell me that his frustration isn't at least somewhat justified:

"The Senate Judiciary Committee has been hard at work for over a month on comprehensive immigration reform," Brownback explained in a prepared response. "No bill before the committee proposes blanket amnesty . . . Border security is our main priority.

The Kansas Republican insisted that he and his colleagues are "working to merge the best of several proposals, and hopefully we can all agree that we must protect our borders, enforce the law, provide legal means for people to work in the United States, and fix a broken system." [emphasis added]
Doesn't that "prepared response" sound...well...mealy-mouthed? For one thing, "merging the best of several proposals" means another "grand compromise," and historically speaking, on divisive issues "grand compromises" never accomplish anything except to kick the can of confrontation down the road a little bit further. And that's been done on the illegal immigration issue several times already over the past forty years.

More to the point, the "several proposals" to which Senator Brownback refers are fundamentally incompatible. A "guest worker program" would be the "blanket amnesty" that Brownback denies, and even if he were serious about protecting our borders and enforcing our laws, it would make those tasks exponentially more difficult, if not actively pointless.

Brownback knows this. Darth Queeg knows this. President Bush knows this. And serious people on this issue like Representative Tancredo know they know it. And they know that serious people on this issue like Representative Tancredo know they know it. And serious people on this issue like Representative Tancredo know they know that he knows that they know it. They also know that they're essentially powerless to stop the floodgate-openers, and that facilitators like Brownback are providing them PR cover.

And yet even though the Democrats hold all the cards on the illegal immigration issue - and if played subtley and deftly could splinter the center-right majority coalition beyond recognition - discretion is a skill that is still utterly unfathomable to them:

[Senate] Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said he would "use every procedural means at my disposal" to prevent [Majority Leader Bill] Frist from bypassing the Judiciary Committee. Frist, R-TN, has made clear the Senate will take up his proposal next week if the 18-member committee fails to complete a broader bill.

"If Leader Frist brings a bill to the floor that does not have the approval of the Judiciary Committee, it will not get out of the Senate," Reid told reporters at the San Ysidro border crossing, a few steps from Tijuana, Mexico.
Fristy's bill omits de facto amnesty and focuses on [***GASP***] tightening borders, punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants and providing more visas. Given the open-borders tilt of just about every corner of the Beltway, it's not surprising (or, given that this is Bill "Doofus" Frist we're talking about, not much...) that he wants to see it die on the Senate floor instead of at Arlen Specter's hands. At least that way it'll get him some publicity, and therefore street cred with the GOP nominating electorate.

Dirty Harry has got to know this. And know that Frist knows that he knows it. And...okay, I'll stop.

But Reid didn't:

Reid said the overhaul must include heightened border enforcement [heh - oh, wait, was that an attempt at subtlety....?] , a "guest worker" program and a "path to citizenship" for the estimated 11 million people in the United States illegally. He called legislation by Senators Edward Kennedy, D-MA, and John McCain, R-AZ, a "good place to start."
Could somebody explain to me why Reid would even need to attempt a filibuster given that a bill awarding Pat Robertson the Presidential Medal of Freedom would pass sooner than Fristy's will? Is he preening for his party's kook fringe base? Isn't there ever a circumstance in which a Democrat is capable of recognizing that discretion is the better part of valor? Or that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt?

A cardinal rule of tactical politics says if your opponents are teeing off on each other, for Willie's sake, don't do anything to distract them from it. And here Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback, two otherwise right-wing stalwarts, are just about to begin their steel cage grudge match with Bill Frist as the guest referee, and the Pencil-Necked Geek does a run-in before the bell can even ring.

As Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy, and he is Vince McMahon." Who should, by the way, be deported immediately.

Who says surrealism is dead?