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March 30, 2006
George Will: Ich Bin Ein Ost-Berliner?

George Will makes his conservative case for the moderate approach to immigration reform, giving enough room for hard-line enforcement while arguing for eventual absorption of the illegals already inside the US. However, he starts out with an almost unforgivable analogy that will have border-enforcement readers seeing red before they ever get to the rest of his arguments:

America, the only developed nation that shares a long -- 2,000-mile -- border with a Third World nation, could seal that border. East Germany showed how: walls, barbed wire, machine gun-toting border guards in towers, mine fields, large, irritable dogs. And we have modern technologies that East Germany never had: sophisticated sensors, unmanned surveillance drones, etc.

East Berlin? Perhaps George doesn't quite recall the purpose of the Berlin Wall, but I guarantee you it wasn't to keep West Berliners out of East Berlin. The East German government and its Soviet masters built that wall to keep people from fleeing the despair and poverty imposed on the unfortunate half of the city and killed anyone they caught trying to cross it. It wasn't part of an overall interdiction effort that promised to stop illegal immigration, drug traffickers, and terrorists from entering Communist territory; it formed the prison wall for the Gulag State and its inmates.

Israel's border with the West Bank and Gaza provide a much clearer analogy. First and foremost, it's built to keep people out, not create a nation of prisoners. It also provides deterrence from illegal crossings, forcing Palestinians towards well-manned checkpoints where security reaches maximum efficiency. The idea is not to kill Palestinian crossers, but to keep them from trying to enter Israel illegally at all. And, by the way, it works; it has been the single most important tool the Israelis had in ending the intifadas. (And by the way, it's hard to argue that Israel isn't a developed nation, that the Palestinian territories aren't a Third World area, or that their border is less significant to Israel's national defense than our southern border.)

The rest of Will's column fares better, although I disagree with his emphasis on what will be an amnesty program in practice, if not in name. Will writes that security must come first, no matter what plan one has for the aftermath. No immigration reform will do anything to stem the flood of illegals coming across the border without effective and robust barriers to entry. Failing to provide such a system only encourages local landowners to protect their property themselves, an impulse which will lead to tragic outcomes.

Will favors the approach taken by the Senate on the rest of its bill on transforming 11 million illegals into citizens by forcing them to pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and register with the government. Had the Senate taken the border issue seriously, that may have been a reasonable follow-up. However, until we secure the border, all of this is smoke and nonsense. No illegal will enter a program that costs him significant fines and back taxes when all he has to do is stay quiet and keep crossing the border in both directions as he sees fit. As for learning English, that would certainly be a novel approach; we don't even make our legal immigrants do that any more, as evidenced by ballots in a plethora of languages and government-sponsored translators at all level of public services.

At least Will sounds a reasonable note in the immigration debate, and his column is well worth a read -- once you get past the implied analogy of America transforming itself into a prison state.

UPDATE: Fixed the title of the post. As Xrlq noted in the comments, it initially translated to "I leg an East Berliner." I try to avoid doing that, actually. Xrlq thinks that Will just wanted to demonstrate that walls can be effective, but Bithead sees it more along the same lines as I do.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 30, 2006 7:25 AM

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