I don’t know the right answer, but I know the wrong answers.
Here are some thoughts I’ve read recently that I find worth thinking about:
Illegal immigration is an entirely predictable consequence of a market economy. People go where the jobs are; employers go where cheap labor is. If you want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, solve that problem. Eliminate the minimum wage; that might do it. (But probably not; Americans don’t do jobs Americans don’t do, particularly for even less money than before.) Confiscate the assets of any company found to be using illegal laborers or confiscate the homes of anyone found to be employing illegal laborers as lawn-care specialists or nannies. That might make an impact, but it won’t happen — somehow, we’ve managed to work it around so employers are not the problem. Employers are citizens, and the problem is with people who are not citizens.
Does anyone think that the several thousand National Guard troops ordered to help the Border Patrol will have any impact at all on the flow of illegal aliens? Does anyone think that, a year from now, we’ll all be mopping our foreheads and saying, “Whew, that was a close call. Thank God those National Guard troops got there in time. At last, no more illegal immigrants”?
There are people who want to build a wall along the border with Mexico. What will that do? First, it’ll make the border with Canada a lot busier. Second, it’ll make the cost of getting across the border higher. Here’s the secret: Any form of smuggling depends on bribes. Customs agents, Border Patrol officers, owners of property along the border — they can all make money from illegal immigration, and a lot of them do. ‘Twas always thus; corruption is as old as society.
But my view of sending in the troops hasn’t changed in the 15 years that I’ve covered this issue. As a solution to our self-induced immigration woes, I give it a “D” — for dumb, drastic and dangerous.
It’s dumb because — although this may come as a shock to the television personalities who parachuted into the San Diego area this week for live shots in front of barbed-wire fences — the front line in the immigration battle isn’t the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s the parking lot of the mega-hardware store in Indianapolis where people pick up day laborers. It’s in the restaurant in Las Vegas, and the hotel in Denver and the construction site in Atlanta. It is in American households where easy access to cheap labor lets middle-class families have nannies, housekeepers and other luxuries that were once the sole province of the upper class.
It’s drastic because, as a practical matter, the National Guard is already spread too thin thanks to the war in Iraq and natural disasters at home. It also makes Bush look desperate, as if he’s caving in to reactionary bullies on the far right who want — as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson put it — a “repressive” immigration policy. It was just a few years ago that Bush, during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, pooh-poohed the idea of putting the Guard on the border. Now Bush has flip-flopped.
Finally, it’s dangerous because the roles served by soldiers and the police aren’t interchangeable. Ask any law enforcement officer who served in the military. Whereas the Border Patrol can — through techniques such as vehicle stops in border communities — tactically remove illegal immigrants, the National Guard is a blunt instrument. When that instrument is used indiscriminately, people can get hurt.
Most of those funds (to pay for a fence as voted by the Senate–ed.) would be in addition to $1.9 billion the Bush administration is requesting from Congress for its “Strategic Border Initiative” for the coming fiscal year.
This huge investment would be justified if there was solid proof that it would work.
But there isn’t.
The United States has already spent billions of dollars fortifying the U.S. border during the past decade. Yet the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border has tripled during that period. “Fences are proven failures,” said Judy Golub, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.
–San Francisco Chronicle editorial
I do not doubt the president’s sincerity in wanting to humanize and regularize the lives of America’s estimated 12 million illegal aliens. But good intentions are not enough. For decades, the well-traveled road from the Mexican border to the barrios of Los Angeles has been paved with such intentions. They begat the misguided immigration policy that created the crisis that necessitated the speech that purports to offer, finally, the “comprehensive” solution.
Hardly. The critical element — border enforcement — is farcical. President Bush promises to increase the number of border agents. That was promised in the Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty legislation in 1986. The result was more than 11 million new illegal immigrants.
The vast majority of people caught smuggling immigrants across the border near San Diego are never prosecuted for the offense, demoralizing the agents making the arrests, according to an internal Border Patrol document obtained by The Associated Press.
“It is very difficult to keep agents’ morale up when the laws they were told to uphold are being watered-down or not prosecuted,” the report says.
The report offers a stark assessment of the situation at a Border Patrol station responsible for guarding 13 miles of mountainous border east of the city. Federal officials say it reflects a reality along the entire 2,000-mile border: Judges and federal attorneys are so swamped that only the most egregious smuggling cases are prosecuted.
And, finally, the wages of heroism: