By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, May 19, 2006
I do not doubt the president's sincerity in wanting to humanize and regularize the lives of America's estimated 12 million illegal aliens. But good intentions are not enough. For decades, the well-traveled road from the Mexican border to the barrios of Los Angeles has been paved with such intentions. They begat the misguided immigration policy that created the crisis that necessitated the speech that purports to offer, finally, the "comprehensive" solution.
Hardly. The critical element -- border enforcement -- is farcical. President Bush promises to increase the number of border agents. That was promised in the Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty legislation in 1986. The result was more than 11 million new illegal immigrants.
The president himself boasted about having already increased the number of border guards by one-third under his administration. Yet he acknowledges in the same speech that we do not have the border under control -- "full control," as he comically put it. The president's new solution? Increase the number of border guards again, by half this time. Everyone knows that anything short of enough border guards to do Hands Across America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean won't do a thing to eliminate illegal immigration.
The only thing that might work is a physical barrier. The president offhandedly dismisses a wall as something that could never stop the "enormous pressure on our border."
By what logic? Opponents pretend that these barriers can always be circumvented by, say, tunnels or clandestine entry by sea. Such arguments are transparently unserious. You're hardly going to get 500,000 illegals lining up outside a tunnel or on a pier. Such choke points are exactly how you would turn the current river of illegal immigrants into narrow streams -- which is all we need to turn the illegal immigration problem from out of control to eminently manageable.
Bush's enforcement provisions were advertised as an attempt to appease conservatives. This is odd. Are conservatives the only ones who think that unlimited, unregulated immigration is a detriment to the republic? Do liberals really believe in a de facto policy that depresses the wages of the poorest and most desperate Americans, African Americans most prominently among them? Do liberals believe that the number, social class, education level, background and country of origin of immigrants -- the kinds of decisions every democratic country makes for itself -- should be taken out of the hands of the American citizenry and left to the immigrants themselves and, in particular, to those most willing to break the very immigration regulations the American people have decided upon democratically?
And is it just conservatives who think the United States ought not be gratuitously squandering one of its greatest assets -- its magnetic attraction to would-be immigrants around the world? There are tens of millions of people who want to leave their homes and come to America. We essentially have an NFL draft in which the United States has the first, oh, million or so draft picks. Rather than exercising those picks, i.e., choosing by whatever criteria we want -- such as education, enterprise, technical skills and creativity -- we admit the tiniest fraction of the best and brightest and permit millions of the unskilled to pour in instead.
The president's speech made a fine case for temporary workers. But what possible confidence can we have that when the time comes to return home, they will not stay on? After all, having lived here for years, they would have an infinitely easier time melting into American society than the current millions of illegals who wandered into places they knew nothing about and successfully melted in.
I am not against legalization. Admittedly, legalization is desperately unfair to the further millions who have been waiting in line at U.S. consulates around the world. By itself, it would only encourage future illegal immigration. But if coupled with a program that closes down the border, it would make sense. It would resolve the problem once and for all.
Serious border enforcement is what's missing in the president's "comprehensive" program. And that is why so many "conservatives" are extremely unhappy. Not out of nativism. There are many like me who cannot wait to end the shadow life of the illegals. But doing so while fraudulently promising to close the border is a simple capitulation -- and an invitation to the next president to declare the next amnesty for the next torrent of illegals who will have understood from the Bush program that crossing the border at night and finding a place to hide is the surest road to the American dream.