The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Pull Up a Chair

Immigration at Home (2): Mr. Bush is Right in Theory

With an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States, calls for their arrest and deportation look extreme, impractical, and counterproductive. Finding them would be difficult enough, jails would overflow, and they are in America primarily because there’s a surfeit of jobs to go round. Crucially, appealing to the business wing of the GOP allows President Bush the political cover needed to defy his party’s archconservatives.

Indeed, in his address tonight Bush largely got it right, at least in theory. Complementing any naturalization proposals, the border needs to be tightened so that the problem doesn’t come full circle only to be dealt with again in a decade’s time. For those with shorter memories, this would not be the first time that a “path to citizenship” or “amnesty” is enacted: both the Reagan and Clinton presidencies pushed similar measures. Because of this history, Bush’s reluctance to use the term “amnesty” makes sense. Previous attempted fixes allowed naturalization while draining resources from the border control, thus allowing the current argument to metastasize. Legalization should only be done in conjunction with efficacious control of the border [ see Immigration: The Border (1)].

Yet giving illegals legitimacy is a crucial step. As already mentioned, the role they play in industry, agriculture, and construction is vital (although experts debate to what extent). Doing so would enable them to lobby for better working conditions (hours, benefits, safety) and pay more taxes, thus reducing the burden on public health care. Some evidence also suggests that – because they would be better placed to seek wage rises –the competitiveness and wages of other workers would be driven up as well. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are hardworking, friendly, family-centered, and otherwise law-abiding.

No, not that kind of alien

Demands must be made of illegals too. Segregation, voluntary or otherwise, is unacceptable and can be overcome through time and learning. While first generation immigrants are often too busied by labor to fully integrate, the second generation – when entered in English -speaking schools (and the nation’s education system needs fixing here too) – become as American as anyone. Anglos shouldn’t feel threatened hearing Spanish in the subway or on television; with a little effort and patience, language barriers and the resulting distance can be minimized. Immigrant protesters, however, are wrong to wave Mexican flags while clamoring for citizenship. The image inherently conflicts with the pursuit, and Spanish national anthems are equally pig-headed.

But the Devil’s in the Details

Resolved: immigrants must learn English. Peer deeper into the issue though and unanswered questions begin to arise. First, how will English proficiency be measured? Must they become fluent or just functional? What is functional? Are those who fail sent home or given another try? What test will be used to determine ability? Designing any such test invites reliability problems, and test-takers eventually seek to pass the exam in place of actual learning. Bush also made a distinction between those illegals who have “roots in our country” and those that have arrived recently. This appears to make sense, but what is the cut-off between the two? Additionally, locating the unpopular newcomers will prove arduous.

And he might be in Congress too

The president’s address tonight stated that, “The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.” This seems to say that the House bill will stand (instead of requiring a new one to be passed, as most had expected), and differences with a Senate bill will be adjudicated in conference (after different versions of a bill are passed separately in the House and Senate, legislators from both chambers meet in conference to resolve discrepancies before sending it to the President). The House bill was of the extreme sort and much will depend on which Congressmen are chosen by the (GOP) leadership to work on the compromise. The questions mentioned above have thus been left to legislators to resolve; a task in which they have so far failed to impress.

With most of his second term agenda (Social Security reform & health care) in tatters and approval ratings barely above 30%, immigration actually looks to be one area where Mr. Bush can affect an important issue. He – and more importantly, the public – will have to nudge Congress to come to a reasonable solution. And a mistakenly overlooked component, one that is arguably as important as illegal immigration: expediting and increasing visas for top-notch students and skilled foreign workers who are increasingly pursuing opportunities elsewhere.


 2006. All rights reserved.

May 16, 2006 Posted by | Author: DML, Democrats, Immigration, Latin America, Mexico, North America, Politics, The GOP, United States | 1 Comment

Espera un Minuto, Mi Compadre

Immigration on the Border (1): Why a Wall & Obstructionism won’t do, but the National Guard Will

As long ago as August 2004 there were reports of U.S. officials apprehending Syrians along the border. A prosaic statement you might say, except for that we are not here talking about Iraq, but New Mexico and Arizona. Admittedly, much of the hype surrounding Middle Eastern terrorists infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border comes from minutemen groups. Yet combined with Senator Norm Coleman‘s (R-MN) announcement that government officials smuggled “enough radioactive material to make two dirty bombs” into America, it can only be hoped that the revelation causes alarm.

Terrorism is just one part of the broader debate about immigration though, the crux of which is two-fold: what to do about securing the border, and how to deal with those illegal immigrants presently inside the country (see Immigration at Home). Regarding the first, the potential link between illegal immigration and terrorism leads to the conclusion that securing the border is an absolutely vital concern. Moreover, as the current border control system is flagrantly incapable of doing so – evidenced by the estimated 11 million illegals that have already bypassed it – whatever method is most effective should be implemented.

 You know me, VIP, no ID, bottles in DP, I do it B-I-G

You know me, no I.D., drinking D-P, I do it B-I-G

Some suggest erecting a wall. Make it a hundred feet tall, replete with a moat, razor wire, spotlights, and attack dogs. But while such a barrier would be effective in theory, it conjures up images of Palestine and Berlin pre-1989 and is certain to provide America-bashers with plenty of useful PR.

Tonight, President Bush will propose in his primetime address that the National Guard “temporarily” assist the overwhelmed Border Patrol with its duties. Combined with steps to legalize those already in the United States and expedite the visa process (see forthcoming second article), this is a positive prescription. It would minimize the awkwardness caused by the petulant (and sometimes violently extrajudicial) minutemen militias and help deal with the onerous strain of illegal immigration on public infrastructure and slippery terrorist, drug smuggling, and criminal operations. The protests of Mexican President Vicente Fox can be overcome and he will soon be gone from office anyway.

The Guard’s being streched too thin due to other responsibilities is a legitimate concern, and military planners will have to work out the details. But eliminating the billions of dollars of pork that Congresspeople squander every year on pet projects would be a start and help free up valuable resources. Yet critics on both the left and the right frequently assert that it’s not the National Guard or U.S. military’s “role” to play grab ass along the border.

This argument, however, is categorically flawed. To begin with, almost every other country in the world – most of them with military expenditures a mere fraction of the half trillion dollars the U.S. Defense department consumes annually – uses it military to defend its territory. Additionally, the U.S. military already does patrol borders: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and elsewhere. Yet even holding these factors aside, previous transformations of the military haven’t been rejected simply because they would redefine its purpose; witness the Rumsfeld Doctrine and the “revolution of military affairs”. These shifts may be either celebrated or discredited but in both cases they are so judged based on their merits, not merely because they alter the status quo.

Ironically, the United States is the victim of its own success. Throughout the country’s history – stemming originally from the founders experience with the devastation standing armies had brought to Europe – Americans have rightly been wary of granting the military power at home. Two broad oceans and usually amicable neighbors made this possible. The presently broken system and the real danger it poses to U.S. security, however, make obstructive axioms about the military’s role inappropriate and unhelpful. The United States must know who is crossing its borders, and if the National Guard is best suited to monitor the border then it should be given the task.


 2006. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2006 Posted by | Author: DML, Democrats, Immigration, Latin America, Mexico, North America, Politics, The GOP, United States | 3 Comments