KCS - Immigration brouhaha could collapse into zilch
Immigration brouhaha could collapse into zilch
By E. Thomas McClanahan
The Kansas City Star
On immigration, the House and Senate have passed two very different bills. In fact, they’re so different the situation evokes one of those science-fiction movies, in which scientists combine matter from one dimension with matter from another.
Usually, the result on film is a big explosion. But in this case, the bills are more likely to simply go … poof! They’re so different that a compromise acceptable to both chambers is probably impossible.
For that, much of the blame goes to the failure of the last attempt to regularize immigration, the Simpson-Mazzoli act of 1986. That law granted amnesty to illegals already in the United States, increased the number of legal immigrants allowed in and authorized tougher enforcement, with penalties for employers who hired illegal immigrants.
But enforcement was lax, and the flow of illegals increased. Today, the number of illegal immigrants has grown to about 12 million, and the memory of Simpson-Mazzoli has thoroughly poisoned the current debate.
As Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa put it in a statement: “I was burned once in 1986. … I’m not getting burned again.”
That attitude is a shame, because a reasonable solution to the immigration problem requires a similar three-faceted policy — effective enforcement, a path to citizenship (some form of amnesty) for illegal immigrants already here, and increased legal immigration. All three, to varying degrees, are interdependent.
Yes, this is the “comprehensive” approach much reviled by immigration hardliners, who say it’s naive. We’ve tried amnesty, they say. Didn’t work.
But the hardliners are equally naive in thinking enforcement alone can be effective.
Enforcement is key, but it can’t work in isolation. Yes, we are a nation of laws. But laws have limits. Prohibition couldn’t stop the sale of liquor, and laws couldn’t make people drive 55 mph on freeways.
When you have two countries sharing a border, one with employers needing workers and another full of people who are desperately poor, labor will flow to jobs. Fences and tougher enforcement can reduce the inflow but not stop it.
If immigration quotas were more in line with employers’ demand for labor, fewer people would feel compelled to enter illegally. Currently, about 1.5 million foreigners a year arrive in this country. Legal quotas cover only about two-thirds that number.
The remainder — about 500,000 — enters illegally. If the annual quota was placed at a more realistic level, that change would reduce pressure on enforcement, while ensuring that most new arrivals remained “on the books” rather than hidden in the underground economy.
As for the path-to-citizenship issue — or amnesty, as some are pleased to call it — it isn’t realistic to talk about deporting 12 million people. What of their children, many of whom were born here and are American citizens?
As James Q. Wilson and Peter Skerry wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal, it isn’t only illegal immigrants who need amnesty. It’s American employers who didn’t verify residency, American police who didn’t question people they arrested about their residency, the U.S. Border Patrol that failed to reduce the inflow (in part because of lack of staff), and the many officials and ordinary Americans who felt sympathy for people who were only trying to better their lives.
The Senate bill comes closest to a reasonable approach, but when you wade into the details even here you find major problems. The guest-worker quota of 200,000 is too low, and in practice, most of these people won’t be “temporary.” Why make the distinction?
Extending Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” requirements to guest workers is absurd. For American workers, such provisions apply only on federally contracted jobs.
And the bill’s three-tiered path to citizenship is overly complicated and unenforceable.
Under the measure:
■ Those here less than two years must pack up and go home, with no guarantee of return.
■ Those here two to five years must leave and reapply for entry and possible citizenship.
■ Those here more than five years could stay, continue working and could attain citizenship after paying fines and back taxes.
Sorting people into those groups would be a bureaucratic nightmare.
Both bills do have one thing in common: They reflect a high degree of political panic. Better this year that both go … poof!
To reach E. Thomas McClanahan, call (816) 234-4480 or send e-mail to email@example.com.