Friday, June 08, 2007


On Immigration

As seen this morning on

To which I can only say: good!

Admittedly, I'm no expert in these matters. I'll also admit that I haven't read the bill. But that's part of the problem right there -- it's a 326-page bill, and it was first made available on May 21st! Were we really expected to read, and fully understand, such a Frankenstein's Monster of a bill, in time to debate it and vote on it, all in less than three weeks?

I'm reminded of the French politician -- was it Dominique Villepin? -- who said, regarding the over-500-page EU Constitution: "The French have not read it. If they read it, they wouldn't understand it. If they understood it, they wouldn't like it. But they should vote for it anyway."

Congresscritters, we expect better than that from you. We elected you to represent us, not to force a telephone book down our throats for our own good. Go home and try again.

Here's a hint, by the way -- don't try to solve everything at once. Yes, we need to do something about our porous borders in this age of international terrorism. Yes, we need to figure out what to do about the ten-million-plus illegal immigrants already in this country. But these two are two separate problems; we don't need to solve them both at the same time.

Personally, I think the border is by far the more urgent of the problems. The illegal immigrants -- those who are already in the United States -- aren't going anywhere, and neither is the problem. But we will continue to have a massive influx of illegal immigrants, so long as the border is unsecured.

(By the way, we Americans should be flattered that we have an illegal immigration problem -- that is, that people from all over the world want to come here so much, that they're willing to break our laws and risk jail time in order to do it. That says a lot about America, and what it's like to live here. But even if it's a good problem for us to have, it's still a problem... and we need to secure the border to deal with that problem.)

So we should take care of the border first. As the man says, "Step One: remove hand from flame".

What should we do? Well, let me say up front that I'm all in favor of immigration -- legal immigration. I think that it's important for the United States to decide how many legal immigrants it can process in a year, and make sure to admit up to that number. I'm in favor of that number being high. But the number is not infinite, and we shouldn't assume that it is.

I also think that there's a lot we could be doing, and are not, to speed up legal immigration tremendously. In this age of global communications, a background police check -- is this person wanted for serious crimes somewhere? -- should practically be a while-you-wait procedure. Similarly, once a person is admitted to the United States provisionally, it ought to be straightforward to keep track of him; our technology for identifying people precisely gets better all the time.

(Yes, I know that most forms of ID cards can, eventually, be forged. Is that any reason to give up and do nothing?)

I think that the United States should encourage people to immigrate here legally, by making it reasonably straightforward to play by the rules. Some aspects will still take time; there's no going around that. But there's no reason for all the red tape; that's what computers are for.

And at the same time, I think that we should punish lawbreakers. Yes, that includes illegal immigrants. I don't care how many people are in our borders illegally; nor do I care about how difficult processing them all would be. We are a nation of laws. If laws are routinely violated, and the violations ignored, it becomes that much harder to enforce other laws -- any other laws.

So what should we do with all the illegals? Personally, I think we should give them a pathway to become legal -- with a penalty for being illegal in the first place -- and make it clear that, if an illegal is discovered to be so and cannot prove that he is working to rectify the situation, he will be deported. Period.

(You think that's expensive? How expensive would it be to have millions upon millions of new immigrants, all of whom know for a fact that some laws don't apply to them? How much would we need to spend on beefing up police forces across the country? How much of a crime rate would we be willing to swallow, before we admit that generating a brand-new criminal class in the United States might not have been all that great an idea?)

Please note that I've been rather unspecific as to the details. This was deliberate; as I said, I'm no expert in these matters. What penalty should illegals have to pay on the road to becoming legal, for example, that legal immigrants need not pay? Better minds than mine can decide that; I only ask that there be such a penalty, and that it be real, not symbolic. If we want to encourage legal immigration, we must discourage illegal immigration. You do that by providing incentives for legals and penalties for illegals; that's how it works.

Similarly, I don't know what the path should be for an illegal immigrant to become legal. The path should exist, it should be easy to find, it should be easy to prove that you're on it... and there should be harsh penalties for not following it! Again, you get more of what you encourage and less of what you penalize. If what we want is for illegals to come clean and become productive citizens, we should make sure they know how to do so... and look hard for the people who prefer to stay in the shadows, and get rid of them.

Fred Thompson put it well the other day. This is our home... and we get to decide who comes into our home, and who can stay here.

So, to President Bush: nice try, but I'm not buying it. Amnesty for law-breakers is wrong; calling it by another name doesn't make it right. Amnesty is, to me, only acceptable if it's necessary to avoid a much bigger crime going unpunished. (That's what plea-bargaining is about, for example.) That's not the case here; if anything, the consequences of amnesty, to me, seem a heck of a lot worse than the status quo.

To Congress: write us a bill that works, please. One without moral equivalence would be good; let's learn to differentiate between law-abiding citizens and lawbreakers. And let's give lawbreakers a reasonable chance to go straight. But let's look hard for the ones who don't want to go straight, and for them, let's remember that breaking the law is supposed to have penalties attached.

Don't worry so much about implementation. Americans are good at building things from a reasonable set of specifications. Just see to it that the law makes sense; we can take it from there.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, we have so much red tape in place because of immigration quotas. That is, perhaps the red tape is intended to limit legal immigration all by itself.

If true, I think it's a terrible approach. It would also be a cop-out on the part of our decision makers. We should streamline our immigration process as much as we can, subject to security considerations and other factors. The INS could then issue a report saying, "We believe that we can efficiently process 20,000 new immigrants per year; any more would produce a backlog." (I pulled that number out of the air, of course.) Congress could then make a decision and say, "We will allow 15,000 immigrant visas this year"... and then take responsibility for that decision. Or they could say, "Not enough, INS; we want to issue 30,000 visas this year. Figure out a way to make that possible." Either way, we should be deciding how to handle this, not letting bureaucracy decide the issue for us.

UPDATE II: As seen on Instapundit, this remarkable statement:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Friday that Washington is taking steps to address Mexican concerns the U.S. is not doing enough to stop illegal weapons from being smuggled across the border and into the hands of brutal drug gangs. . . . "The firepower we are seeing here has to do with a lack of control on the (U.S.) side of the border," Patricio Patino, Mexico's top anti-drug intelligence official, said last month.
Good Lord. So we're taking steps to fortify the US-Mexican border... in order to protect the Mexicans from us?

As Glenn Reynolds says, "Maybe they could build a fence, or something." I'd say it's worth a try.


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