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June 08, 2007

A Lefty Suggests A Security-First Plan (For The Right Reasons -- Out of Love)

He wants border security first out of love; I, of course, want border security first out of hatred. Let's compromise and both support security-first out of, say, conflicted ambivalence (though I must insist that that conflict include at least 10% pure nativist hatred by volume).

His plan, which, strangely enough, looks a lot like a conservative plan, despite the fact his comes from love and ours from a volcanic fury:

1. Border security. There is no credible way to talk about what to do with the current crop of illegals until it is reasonably assured that we will not have to deal with the next crop.

2. Benign neglect with the current crop of illegals. There's no need to do that much right now. We can revisit the issue of their status in a few years after we have stabilized the size of the illegal population. By that time, most of the illegals who are still in the country will have such deep roots that there may be many ways of making creative uses of existing immigration statutes to regularize their status without the need for a generalized amnesty.

3. Linking immigration policy to economic needs. The idea of a guest worker program is bad for many reasons, but the idea that immigration policy can serve economic needs is not.

The Bush presidency, shall we say, has not distinguished itself through high levels of administrative competence.

Underscore that last point: Without doubt, there is an economic need for some number of migrant workers. I do not believe there is a large enough cadre of Americans who either can or are willing to leave their homes for several months of the year to pick lettuce during growing season. (Do they leave their jobs for four months to do so?)

Part of the problem with illegal workers is that it has become commonplance among so many other industries. Perhaps we do need temporary, seasonal migrant farmhands. I rather think we do. One can postulate that maybe college kids, or even teachers with summers off, can be paid enough during the harvesting months to do this job, but 1) I don't think they will, and 2) I don't know if they can. The school year used to be arranged almost precisely around harvest-time, but not so much anymore, and at any rate many crops are picked throughout the year and we can't expect Americans with full-time, year-round jobs to work a full day in Milwaukee and then work nights in California's orange groves.

But from this likely unavoaidable need for some seasonal migrant workers we've seen full-time jobs filled by more and more illegal workers. Americans used to work as bus-boys and dishwashers at restaurants. (I did, myself, in high school.) Landscapers too. Now those jobs are filled almost exlcusively by illegals, at least in areas that are magnets for illegal workers. It's hardly a coincidence that employment among the high-school and college-aged has fallen from 80% to 60%.

Hotels more and more rely on illegal workers for housekeeping and other tasks. I'm guessing they get around the illegality of it by not employing the illegals directly, but subcontracting to an independent business which itself is not-precisely-rigorous about checking for legal employment status.

And even construction -- a big industry employing millions of American workers, and quite decidedly a job that Americans are very willing to do -- is being done by more and more illegals.

This has to stop at some point lest virtually every low-skilled or manual-labor job be deemed one "Americans wont do." If Dan Balz is pro-amnesty, maybe that has something to do with the fact that few Guatemalans are actively competing for his job.

Part of the problem with this bill is that the emphasis has always been on what illegal immigrants need. What's in their best interest. What will improve their lot.

No offense to illegal immigrants, but I'd like to see a bill that proceeds from the starting assumption that immigration reform ought to be tailored according to what America needs. To some degree, these needs will be congruent. But certainly they won't be entirely so. It didn't add confidence that the numbers for the guest worker program -- we'd like 800,000, but we'll settle for 400,000 per year, no 200,000, maybe 100,000 is all we need, let's phase it out after five years in any event -- seemed picked entirely out of thin air to satisfy political rather than economic interests.

Certainly there would be a negative impact if many businesses started going bankrupt for lack of workers. On the other hand, there's also a negative impact on the economy if more and more Americans are displaced by cheaper foreign workers. Where the balance may lie, I don't know, but it sure doesn't seem that McCain/Kennedy/Bush/Graham bothered doing much investigation into this themselves.

The whole debate -- such as it was -- consisted of the pro-amnesty bloc offering us minor concessions in the direction of security (steps they seemed to admit were vital for our national security, at least when they needed to score a rhetorical point) but only in exchange for full-on amnesty. Well, if all those steps were vital for our security, why should we wait to implement them until we amnesty 15 million illegals? Are they vital or are they not vital? Is our security at risk or not? Why should steps you admit are crucial be held hostage to an unrelated question about amnesty?

That last point -- offering border security only in exchange for amnesty -- pretty much scotched the pretense that these guys cared about security at all. If they cared about security, why were they only willing to make empty gestures towards security in order to sweeten the amnesty pill?

Are national security interests -- vitalnational securty interests, we were repeatedly reminded -- not a compelling enough interest to stand on their own merits, unencumbered by and disentangled from side-deals about guest-workers and amnesty?

How could anyone possibly believe this bill was not about amnesty for amnesty's sake, first and foremost, and only about "security" to the extent it was necessary to appease the "bigots"?

They only offered to build less than half the fence they'd already promised to build (right before the elections, note: See, Dan Balz, that's when truly popular legislation is scheduled) in exchange for amnesty. And now, without amnesty, will they build the fence?

Of course not. They never intended to build it, and wouldn't even have built it had they gotten their amnesty in exchange. If they could break one political promise, what's the big deal about breaking another promise?

Had this debate moved in a different way -- security first, with a genuine, demonstrable committment to that on the part of Bush and Congress -- Americans would not have found amnesty such a bitter pill. They wouldn't have liked it, God knows, but the public would have gone along with it in grumbling annoyance.

That's how they hoped the public would react to the bill they actually pushed on us -- going along with it in grumbling annoyance, but not angry rebellion. But as it was clear they not only intended to give us the finger on amnesty, but on security as well (the very thing we were supposed to get in exchange for amnesty), we got very angry indeed, and eventually they actually noticed.

But Bush isn't going to build the fence. He's built two miles so far, and by the time he leaves office, I am confident he'll have that up to... sixteen or seventeen miles. Maybe he'll even buy one of those four UAVs he promised us!

And so all of this debate will have to wait until we have a President who is either 1) committed to enforcing immigration laws and border security or 2) is not actually personally committed to such a goal, but has to worry about facing the public in four years, and so, unlike Bush, has something to lose by defying the public's plainly-stated demands.

Whether the President enforces border security out of genuine commitment or simply pandering to the majority of the American public, I could care less.

I really don't know how to end this, but taking another dig at Bush seems like a decent enough conclusion.

Bush says he's going to continue pressing for amnesty.

Yeah. I'm not, umm, all that concerned by Bush's famous follow-through on his plans and initiatives. I'm slightly less afraid of Bush's laser-like focus on getting his proposals passed than I am of, say, vaginas.

Maybe he can use what's left of his political capital to do what he can -- in what few weeks remain left -- to secure his real legacy, a success (or failure) in the War in Iraq.

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posted by Ace at 05:29 PM

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