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January 8, 2004
Immigration Reform Opponents Have Questions to Answer

George Bush, in his proposal to reform the issue of illegal immigration, seems to have done what the election and the Nine Dwarves couldn't -- split the right and shake his base with an outbreak of pragmatic centrism. The day after Bush's proposal for a new guest-worker program and its extension to illegal workers already in the US, the conservatives are lighting up the Internet with dissension and outrage. For instance, the Corner at NRO has several voices all sounding the same alarms: amnesty and surrender, and they're not at all happy about it. So far, very little objection has been made to the concept of a guest-worker program; most of the bandwidth is being eaten up by the idea of allowing those already here to enter the program as a sort of fait accompli.

It's time for a reality check, folks. We have somewhere between 8 to 10 million illegal immigrants (undocumented workers in the PC world, of course), and no way to identify them. What the good and normally rational folks at National Review would have us do is to round them all up and deport them, which sounds like a terrific idea until you start to plan exactly how you go about doing it.

First, we have to find them. That means raids on businesses and homes, demands for documents, interrogations, and endless administrative/judicial proceedings to classify the people arrested. This won't be happening on the desert of Iraq or the hills of Afghanistan -- this will be happening here in the US, and we have due process requirements. How much do you think this will cost? What do you think the effects on our civil rights will be as we try to round up a population that large?

Next, we have to have somewhere to put 10 million people while we wait for their status to be judged and decided. That number exceeds the number of people incarcerated in the US by a factor of at least five. Try to imagine building five times the number of prisons and jails in the US just for this purpose. Or do we build camps to house these people, maybe out in a desert somewhere? Who then guards these camps? Who feeds them while they sit for months waiting for due process to play out? What kind of conditions will these people have to live in while they wait, and what happens when they revolt or prove too unwieldy?

Lastly, just where do we send these people? In order to determine their country of origin, we'd have to have some documentation -- but we don't have any now, because they have no program under which to be documented. We can't just ship them all back to Mexico, because a significant percentage of them aren't Mexican. You may get some cooperation from the deportees themselves, but I wouldn't count on it as a rule.

So now we will have created a situation where we're knocking down doors, rounding up people who we think don't belong here, herding them into camps for deportation to someplace, although we don't know where exactly. If you think Nazi analogies are flowing freely now, just wait; they'll be a lot more accurate under this scenario.

It's all well and good to say that they don't belong here in the first place. I agree with that. They shouldn't have come, and we should have had a better system for dealing with issue a generation ago. We should have insisted on genuine political reform throughout the Americas so that people don't have to come here in droves to earn enough money to eat. There's lots of things that could have and should have been done prior to now, and not just on immigration -- you can play the 'shoulda woulda coulda' game on Islamofascism, too, and argue that we shouldn't be in Iraq and Afghanistan now.

But Bush and Congress aren't paid to be philosophers, they're paid to solve problems and protect and defend the US. The problem is here and it needs to be solved realistically. Under this plan, no one gets a free ride to resident-alien status; they get to be guest workers while they, like everyone else, apply for immigrant status. (If you deported them today, they'd still be allowed to apply for a green card anyway.) It also isn't an "earn your way to legality" program that all the Democrats want to see enacted, a ludicrous idea that continues to reward illegal immigration and provides no mechanism for documentation and supervision.

It's a pragmatic and realistic concept that acknowledges the existence of 10 million people who provide cheap labor for American industries that can't attract native employees. It harnesses them into a system that minimizes their potential for exploitation while allowing us to monitor their status and eases the pressure on our border guards so that they can concentrate on real security issues. It may not be perfect and there may be room to adjust it for better success, but so far it's the best proposal for actually confronting the problem in my lifetime.

Postscript: I know a lot of people I respect and with whom I normally agree do not agree with me, so please read Power Line's take on this issue, while Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost may be still undecided about it. Polipundit says "deport them all," without saying how. California Yankee disagrees with the solution but agrees that Bush is at least bold and visionary, even when he's wrong, at least according to the California Yankee.

On the other hand, some other people agree with me, including Citizen Smash (who lives just south of where I was born and raised), and Professor Bainbridge says, "Let's do it."

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 8, 2004 6:15 PM

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