Who Is Baking The Immigration Cake? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Immigration Cake

I’ve yet to comment on the recent immigration debate, though I have previously shared my thoughts on the topic at Thought Theater. Having recently spent some time ruminating on the relevnt issues, along with today’s reading of George Will’s latest commentary, I’m ready to take another swipe at the subject.

There seems to be a movement to characterize the tepid across the board voter polling as an indication that the new legislation is generally unacceptable...or in the extreme, as Minority Leader John Boehner described it after meeting with the president, it is “a piece of shit". While I can comprehend Will's rationale, I’m inclined to disagree with his subsequent conclusions.

In fact, I view the poll numbers and the lukewarm reactions to this pending legislation as an egg that won’t hatch because it’s been sat on for far too long by an impotent brood of “banty" roosters who have repeatedly placed partisan objectives ahead of pragmatic and prudent policy. What we are witnessing is simply the acknowledgment that reality has come home to roost…and it has been forever altered by the proverbial practice of “head in the sand" hegemony and hypocrisy.

Let me attempt to explain what I mean. First, let’s look at some of the arguments being advanced in George Will’s op-ed piece.

Compromise is incessantly praised, and it has produced the proposed immigration legislation. But compromise is the mother of complexity, which, regarding immigration, virtually guarantees -- as the public understands -- weak enforcement and noncompliance.

In 1986, when there probably were 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants, Americans accepted an amnesty because they were promised that border control would promptly follow. Today the 12 million illegal immigrants, 60 percent of whom have been here five or more years, are as numerous as Pennsylvanians; 44 states have populations smaller than 12 million. Deporting the 12 million would require police resources and methods from which the nation would rightly flinch. So, why not leave bad enough alone?

Concentrate on border control and on workplace enforcement facilitated by a biometric identification card issued to immigrants who are or will arrive here legally. Treat the problem of the 12 million with benign neglect. Their children born here are American citizens; the parents of these children will pass away.

Were I living in the civil war era, I might conclude that The Reconstruction had commenced…though this time in the form of rewriting history to mask the motives that allowed the 1986 policy to morph into an illegal immigrant incubator. Ask the owner of any small business in operation during this period and they will gladly confirm that the process of worker verification had been given a virtual vasectomy…rendering it harmless, helpless, and hopeless.

Here’s how the Center for Immigration Studies describes the enforcement of the 1986 law:

Enforcement of this measure, intended to turn off the magnet attracting illegals in the first place, was spotty at first and is now virtually nonexistent. Even when the law was passed, Congress pulled its punch by not requiring the development of a mechanism for employers to verify the legal status of new hires, forcing the system to fall back on a blizzard of easily forged paper documents.

And even under this flawed system, the INS was publicly slapped down when it did try to enforce the law. When the agency conducted raids during Georgia's Vidalia onion harvest in 1998, thousands of illegal aliens — knowingly hired by the farmers — abandoned the fields to avoid arrest. By the end of the week, both of the state's senators and three congressmen — Republicans and Democrats — had sent an outraged letter to Washington complaining that the INS "does not understand the needs of America's farmers," and that was the end of that.

So, the INS tried out a "kinder, gentler" means of enforcing the law, which fared no better. Rather than conduct raids on individual employers, Operation Vanguard in 1998-99 sought to identify illegal workers at all meatpacking plants in Nebraska through audits of personnel records. The INS then asked to interview those employees who appeared to be unauthorized — and the illegals ran off. The procedure was remarkably successful, and was meant to be repeated every two or three months until the plants were weaned from their dependence on illegal labor.

Local law-enforcement officials were very pleased with the results, but employers and politicians vociferously criticized the very idea of enforcing the immigration law. Gov. Mike Johanns organized a task force to oppose the operation; the meat packers and the ranchers hired former Gov. Ben Nelson to lobby on their behalf; and, in Washington, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) (coauthor, with Tom Daschle, of the newest amnesty bill, S.2010) made it his mission in life to pressure the Justice Department to stop. They succeeded, the operation was ended, and the INS veteran who thought it up in the first place is now enjoying early retirement.

The INS got the message and developed a new interior-enforcement policy that gave up on trying to actually reassert control over immigration and focused almost entirely on the important, but narrow, issues of criminal aliens and smugglers. As INS policy director Robert Bach told the New York Times in a 2000 story appropriately entitled "I.N.S. Is Looking the Other Way as Illegal Immigrants Fill Jobs": "It is just the market at work, drawing people to jobs, and the INS has chosen to concentrate its actions on aliens who are a danger to the community." The result is clear — the San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier this month that from 1992 to 2002, the number of companies fined for hiring illegal workers fell from 1,063 to 13. That's thirteen. In the whole country.

So when Will states that the problem was “weak enforcement and noncompliance", he is only offering a superficial view of the problem. The law was sufficient…but the will of the government (executed by elected officials)…tempered by the economic concerns of important constituent groups and the politicians who needed their votes…didn’t exist for long, if at all.

What resulted was a confluence of competing interests that enabled the unbridled and unchecked flow of immigrants into the country. Republicans satisfied their corporate supporters and Democrats tallied the numbers of a rapidly expanding voting block. Keep in mind the relevant dates…from 1986 to 1992 we had a Republican in the White House and from 1992 through 2000, we had a Democratic president…all followed by the seven years of festering and fractional concerns that have plagued the Bush administration’s tenure. So if it wasn’t solely Republican or Democratic malfeasance that defined these years, what was it? Perhaps politicians of all flavors were savoring the perceived spoils?

The beauty of history is found in the limited degree to which it can be altered…though I realize efforts to flummox are attempted with rampant regularity. With that said, it is necessary to acknowledge that George Bush and his minions, cognizant of his years as the governor of Texas and the data from the elections in 2000 and 2004, thought that they could have their cake and eat it too. By all indications, they concluded that they could facilitate an already substantiated shift of Hispanics voters to the GOP. Given the Bush teams preoccupation with establishing generations of GOP dominance, should anyone be hesitant to conclude that they were salivating at the prospects that immigration reform might afford?

Step forward to 2006 and the obvious Democratic shift…especially in middle class Middle America and one can easily explain the divergent positions found primarily in the GOP, and to a lesser degree amongst Democrats…especially in labor laden districts and regions. Add in the unique considerations and perspectives found in Border States as well as an indeterminate amount of garden variety bigotry and one might well agree with Will that the immigration conundrum fits the premise that “compromise is the mother of complexity"…but when he concludes that complexity leads voters to expect “weak enforcement and noncompliance", that simply provides politicians a ready made excuse for what they have already failed to do along with a rationale for the continuation of failure.

To be fair to Will, we agree that the public is coming “to the conclusion that the government cannot be trusted to mean what it says about immigration". Beyond that we diverge as he goes on to suggest that the government should focus on “border control and on workplace enforcement" while treating “the problem of the [existing undocumented immigrants] 12 million with benign neglect". I’m not sure if Will wants us to focus on the “benign" or the “neglect"…but it’s certainly a doozy of a double entendre.

I do understand Will’s rationale. He believes that any path to citizenship for the existing illegal immigrants would eventually afford them the benefits that come with citizenship and therefore tax entitlement programs at a time when we are approaching the retirement bubble of the baby boomer generation. By ignoring them, we avoid the potential cost considerations while still benefiting from the cheap labor they will continue to provide. With the borders sealed, we halt the continuing influx and, by law, the children of the existing illegal immigrants become citizens…time passes and the 12 million illegal immigrants die off without becoming a worsening financial burden.

Now I’ve heard of sweeping ones problems under a rug…but what Will is suggesting is that we sweep an entire generation under the rug…but not before we let them nanny our children, harvest our crops, clean our toilets, and contribute to our entitlement programs…without the prospect of ever participating in any of those benefits.

Hey, I haven’t trusted politicians for a number of years…but if George Will is suggesting that we entrust him and his ilk with resolving the complexities of this and other issues, then he, like the politicians he chastises (wink, wink), not only wants his cake and eat it too…he already has his eye upon the lowly cooks that will bake it. The one ingredient he lacks, and the one he clearly seeks through his tortured treatise, is for the rest of us Americans to turn our heads and close our eyes while he puts the proverbial squeeze upon what’s left of our commitment to dignity and decency.

If that’s the best America has to offer, I’m gonna have to pass on dessert. That’s one convoluted cake I can’t swallow. I keep thinking that our politicians and their emissaries will someday realize that the voting public, almost without fail, eventually sees through the charades that have become the staple of the political pabulum they ask us to ingest. Perhaps its time we serve them a heapin’ helpin’ of some good old fashioned humble pie?

Daniel DiRito | May 24, 2007 | 12:58 PM
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