Immigration is Fine--So Is a Wall
Today, House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) offered to the nation that they do not intend to have illegal immigrants exposed to felony punishment (H.T. Drudge).
I have not been able to find any clarity on this, but it remains an open question as to which illegals we are talking about--the ones already here or the ones to come.
I have been very clear that I favor a guest worker program in this nation. With unemployment at 4.7%, it's a hard argument to make that Mexican illegal immigrants are siphoning off jobs. And based upon that figure, I really don't buy the argument that if the wages were higher, Americans would go flocking to the jobs which Mexicans are doing. There is no evidence that these folks are keeping Americans from employment.
But I have also been clear that security and the rule of law are more than bywords, and that if we overlook either, we do so at our own peril.
Immigrant workers are here to stay, but just the same, we need to set up a system that permits legal entrance into our nation after various examinations to ensure that they aren't bringing anything unhealthy or unlawful into our nation. As a point of reference, my children's pediatrician advised that we have our children vaccinated for hepatitis-A because the disease can be passed by infected migrant workers in the fast food industry to customers. Likewise, drugs and other problems need to be interdicted at the border. About such things there can be very little wrangling. These are reasonable restrictions.
On the other hand, there is room to discuss penalizing illegals--after all, they broke the law. I'm in favor of fines or other civil penalties for illegals who are already present, but as with anything else, how do we enforce it? Will the promise of a penalty dissuade workers already here from getting legalized? Probably so, as there is really no disincentive at this point to being an illegal worker. The other side to the enforcement coin, however is putting the burden on the employer to hire only documented workers, severely penalizing those who employ unauthorized workers, thus creating the incentive for current illegals to register, pay the piper and go on working. The question is whether this is a form of amnesty.
But "amnesty" is not per se a bad thing. However, as it is applied in this debate, it means one of two things: forgiveness for crimes committed and/or an encouragement for future lawbreakers that the law will remain unenforced.
The first one is, unfortunately a given in this debate. We felonize 11 million people, round them up, jail them, and/or deport them all. I'd love to see how that would work logistically. Part of the difficulty is that we have let the problem go on this long, making enforcement a nightmare. And it would miss the entire point of a meaningful immigration bill. A civil sanction is about as far as we can reasonably go with the folks we have.
But a system that provides severe criminal penalties to those who illegally enter our nation in the future would do the trick of discouraging illegal entry, as would a system that causes employers who hire such folk to hemorrhage cash.
And so having established something on that order--a program that legally processes immigrant workers, ensures that they are not bringing contraband or illness into the nation, and authorizing them to work in a legal capacity, we also establish a wall on the border, as all of the legitimate concerns about immigrant access will have been addressed.
Because at that point, if anyone opposes a wall to prevent unauthorized immigration, they are advocating for drug trafficking, an open door for terrorists, and unrestricted access to our welfare system. And the "Berlin Wall" demagoguery misses the entire point of this program. That wall was meant to contain East Germans and restrict influence from the West. This one permits Americans and Mexicans alike to pass freely through. It permits the enforcement of our laws and allows easier detection and interdiction of criminal elements. And who could argue with that--other than criminals?
What we need is a bill that addresses these realities and gives us a reasonable place from which to start. Because neither punishment of 11 million people nor leaving an open border is in our best interests.