from the Home News Tribune (for full article click here):
You can look at it as cynical political manipulation. You can look at it purely in terms of policy effectiveness. Either way, it's not going to work.
Right now, it seems holdouts in the House are going to kill the comprehensive immigration reform passed by the Senate a while back. Instead, they are going for an enforcement-only approach.
It includes a $2 billion, 700-mile fence along the Mexican border, giving state and local cops authority to arrest people for civil violations of immigration law and a new requirement for voters to show photo identification to take part in federal elections.
Off the table, for now, is the Senate plan — supported by the president — that provides a guest-worker program and a path for illegal immigrants to legalize their status if they pay fines, learn English, have a job and stay out of trouble.
The enforcement-only provisions would not be totally objectionable were they part of a more comprehensive bill.
Take the 700-mile fence. The border with Mexico is some 2,100 miles, and the border with Canada is about 5,500 miles, including land and water. The fence would cover about a third of the Mexican border and none of Canada's. One could argue it's ineffective, especially in light of the fact that 40 percent to 50 percent of illegal immigrants did not sneak in but entered legally and overstayed their visas. Then there is the ugliness of a nation built by immigrants hiding behind walls and barbed wire.
Still, no need for perfection. A fence will make it more difficult, in some border sectors, to enter the United States illegally. So fine: a fence it is — as part of a compromise that accepts the comprehensive Senate provisions.
Same for the plan to give state and local cops power over immigration law. Many law-
enforcement agencies don't want such power, saying their job is to catch actual criminals and prevent actual crimes, not violators of civil statutes. They also say that illegal immigrants who often serve as sources to catch real criminals will be afraid to talk to police.
The legislation, however, does not force local cops into the immigration-enforcement business. It leaves that up to local authorities. So, again, it's an idea full of problems yet acceptable as a negotiated part of a larger solution.
And there's the matter of photo IDs to vote. There is zero evidence that illegal immigrants are flooding voting booths. The legislation solves a problem that does not exist. Yet if anti-immigrant radicals want voters to show who they are, moderate voices should be able to accommodate that — again, if accompanied by the more comprehensive Senate plan.
But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has said he would support enforcement-only, and President Bush has said he would sign the bill as a "first step."
In terms of pure politics, it's a craven cave-in to the hard right. Republicans will reverse the gains Bush made among Hispanic voters since xenophobic waves of the mid-1990s. And they will lose the votes of moderates — poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans support a path to legality.
And in terms of policy effectiveness, the enforcement-only approach merely nibbles at the problem. Maybe a few more people will be unable to sneak in. Others will find a way around the fence. Many more will continue to enter legally and stay beyond their allotted time.
Nothing will be done about the 11 million already here without papers. At least the House's enforcement-only
bill says nothing about mass deportations — the more extremist sorts have come to realize it's not the right time to demand such a measure, while the less radical ones who still want enforcement-only see that kicking 11 million out of the country is both impractical and immoral.
So they will remain in the shadows.
The Senate's plan for a guest-worker program combined with a path to legality would have addressed the problem. But the plan might be dead.
Sadly, it isn't just the xenophobic right that is killing it. It's also George Bush. Going back to his days as governor of Texas, he always understood a sensible immigration policy needed to include more than walls, cops and ID cards. Now he is willing to accept those things as a "first step." If he does, it is hard to imagine the hard right will later accept a second.