There Is No Plan

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Where Are They Now? Immigration Reform.

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illegal shmillegal

illegal shmillegal

Conveniently put aside most probably by a pact between Obama and McCain, the I-word was not uttered once during the election campaign. I mean pigs wearing lipstick got about ten thousand times the airtime. John McCain walked away from the sensible immigration reform he championed for fear of losing the base that he’d been so studiously courting. And Obama, as a Democrat saw it as a net vote loser, especially in states like New Mexico and Colorado which were a firewall for his electoral strategy.

And yet it was only a few months ago, that the news was full of stories about marches in Los Angeles, and border fences being built, and extremely irate sheriffs in Mariposa County, Arizona. There was talk of vigilantes and ‘minutemen’, posses to round up the illegals, and nightmarish tales of containers turned coffins. The news cycle is a funny thing. Immigration was just dropped like a hot tamale.

Even after the election, the I-word has hardly been mentioned. And yet immigration reform is a fundamental part of many of the different elements of the Obama platform. At the top of the list is healthcare reform. Illegal immigration represents a major drain on local health resources. Then there’s education, housing, taxation and even military recruitment policy.

The problem has not gone away. The conundrum has not suddenly evaporated. We’re still presented with a set of very unpalatable political choices. Not only are there around 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, but there are millions of American kids who count an undocumented worker as a parent. Do we enforce immigration law, or not? Do we wrench honest, hard working, undocumented workers from the lives they are building here in America, because they ‘broke the law’? Do we separate parents from children? Let’s face facts, forthright enforcement of immigration law is simply not possible.

To begin with, the concept that an undocumented worker is a lawbreaker seems bizarre. Suggesting that coming to America over the Rio Grande is illegal is like saying suicide is illegal. Once you broken the law, there’s nothing you can do to rectify the situation, except going back. And yet that notion of being an outlaw leads direct to the most emotive word in the immigration vocabulary. Amnesty. No account is taken of how law abiding an undocumented worker is in other respects. Once you crossed that border you were branded for life. We have to de-criminalize this problem to drain it of policy-warping emotion. A cool, calculated realpolitik is far more useful.

Language is important. Amnesty is the wrong word. And the reason it is wrong is because amnesty is something you grant when you’re holding all the cards. The US Government does not have the whip hand here. It has very little power at all. There are about forty different reasons why it cannot seek out 12 million people, put them in holding camps, then bus them back to Latin America, and that’s what true enforcement would mean. Any lesser enforcement of immigration law is a sad and selective pin prick.

So let’s put aside wholesale enforcement of immigration law. It’s a non-starter. There’s only one serious alternative. A wholehearted, generous, and honest reckoning with the undocumented workers who live in this country. If they agree to be bound by the duties of US citizenship, the government will forgive any tax liabilities they owe, and life will go on. We must do everything we can to encourage people to come forward. It’s even in our interests to offer tax-free financial and other government inducements as much as many American citizens will loathe this idea, simply because the cost of paying undocumented workers to become citizens is a bargain next to the drain they represent continuing on the black economy as illegal immigrants.Finally, this policy needs to be accompanied by a serious attempt to fence off the southern border of the US. It simply must no longer be porous.

A deadline of probably two years should be set for illegal immigrants to sign up for citizenship. With no exception, any illegal immigrant who remains underground, and there are likely to be a very significant percentage, will henceforth be breaking the law, and be subject to the full force of immigration enforcement. It needs to be made clear that the citizenship of the offspring of illegal immigrants under the age of 18 is conditional on their parents accepting citizenship. If a constitutional amendment is necessary to make this a reality then it has to be drawn up.

In this way, we solve our immigration conundrum. Undocumented workers become citizens with all the duties and responsibilities that entails. Enforcement becomes possible, a powerful border fence becomes a necessity. It is a sweeping but just solution.

At this point that’s the only kind of solution that will work. Janet Napolitano is an excellent choice for Homeland Security, but she’s going to have her work cut out for her.

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