Thursday, June 07, 2007

Immigration Bill Support Wanes

A compromise immigration bill just barely survived a series of challenges in the Senate yesterday. Attempts to add numerous amendments to the bill were narrowly defeated, while a single amendment to shut the program down after 5-years barely passed on a 49-48 vote. (Washington Post: Immigrant Measure Survives Challenges.)

Whether or not the bill ultimately passes is largely irrelevant. Like most of what is coming out of Congress, the bill attempts to morph multiple problems into a single solution that in reality accomplishes virtually nothing. There are three fundamental problems facing us today with regards to immigration policies, and those three problems need to be addressed separately.

First, we have the problem of illegal border crossings which allow people to enter this country without the proper documentation. Regardless of what happens with the other two issues, that problem needs to be solved immediately. There is no legitimate reason for any person to be able to cross our border without proper documentation. Large swatches of our borders both north and south are largely unprotected, so crossing into the US without attracting attention is much easier than the average person would believe. Those borders need to be secured and they need to be monitored. Until that is done we will continue to have an illegal immigration problem. Passing more legislation is laughable without first securing our borders.

The second problem has to do with tracking long term visitors to this country and dealing with those that have exceeded their visa limits. The challenge this presents very quickly turns into a privacy issue. There aren't many - if any - ways to track non-US citizens without also tracking US citizens, and I certainly don't advocate that. We already have enough of a Big Brother environment here without additional tracking imposed on everyone's movements. There are, however, some steps that can be taken to mitigate the problem without becoming too intrusive. There needs to be a requirement for proof of citizenship or proof of legal status when seeking employment, obtaining a driver's license, renting an apartment, buying a home, etc. That is reasonable and will help identify people that are not here legally whenever they engage in a major activity. It won't catch everyone, but it will certainly catch more than we do today. In any event, this issue must be solved and, while it is tied to the first issue, it is in fact separate and should not delay the resolution of issue one.

The third problem is what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants that are already here. Some estimates claim 12-million but the actual number is irrelevant. The point is, they are here, they are illegal, so what are we going to do about it. Well, here's where I'm going to shock my conservative peers. What we do is make them legal. It is not practical, nor is it cost effective, to attempt to track down 12-million people using government, military, or police resources. The only way to identify the current illegal aliens is with their cooperation. Therefore, it must be in their best interests to come forward and obtain legal status. Imposing fines, requiring the head of household to leave and apply to come back, etc. is absolutely absurd. That only provides incentive to remain below the radar. The bill as offered is ludicrous.

Yes, I realize what I am advocating amounts to amnesty, and that does effectively reward 12-million or so people for breaking the law. It is, however, practical and cost effective. Unless the people already here have a reason to come forward, an assurance that they will not be separated from their families, and an assurance that they will not be financially penalized, identifying the 12-million already here will never happen. So as distasteful as it is, amnesty is really the only viable option.

So where does that leave us? Well right now it leaves us with an immigration bill that is laughable. It leaves us with a bill that will not address the people already here, will not prevent additional illegal border crossings, and will not provide for the tracking of people holding expired visas. About the only thing it provides is a political feather for senators heading into an election year, but like most campaign rhetoric, it truly holds no substance.

The challenge is still before Congress to address the immigration issues. I also challenge them to address them as three separate and unique problems that must be solved. As long as all three issues are bundled into a single piece of legislation, progress towards a viable immigration solution will be stymied.

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