Inaction trumps problem-solving when immigration is involved

Thursday, May 27, 2010

EVEN DRACONIAN measures like the one adopted in Arizona are not going to make 11 million immigrants already illegally here in this country magically disappear, let alone address this country's dysfunctional immigration system. Neither is President Obama's decision, announced this week, to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that appears motivated at least as much by election-year political anxiety as by genuine security concerns. After all, illegal cross-border entries are down significantly in the past two years, and so is violent crime in border states, as the administration itself has noted.

What would work is a multi-pronged approach like the one drafted by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), which would deploy new personnel and technology to the border, coupled with employment verification and a path to eventual legal status for undocumented immigrants already here. Unfortunately, the legislation, still in draft form, stands no chance unless it attracts a handful of Republican votes, which at the moment looks unlikely.

But the approach itself is sound and sensible. The outline of the Schumer bill -- Mr. Graham having withdrawn his support -- spends about 20 of its 26 pages dealing with how to tighten enforcement and stop the inflow of illegal immigrants. More Border Patrol officers would keep an eye on the nation's frontiers. More agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would fight smuggling and check workplaces. The Pentagon would be called on to deploy equipment to shut down illegal crossings, along with helicopters, speedboats, night-vision equipment, unmanned drones and high-tech surveillance systems. Mr. Schumer, it seems, is willing to create the modern-day equivalent of the Berlin Wall -- if it will attract a handful of GOP senators.

His proposal also relies on a new high-tech Social Security card that would include biometric data to be used exclusively to check employment eligibility. Employers, who constitute the most effective checkpoint in terms of shutting down illegal immigration, would no longer be able to use the excuse of ignorance or a porous system to justify their hiring of people who are in the country illegally.

At the same time, the measure would clear the backlog of some 2.6 million relatives of U.S. citizens who are awaiting visas -- a process estimated to take eight years -- and stop a self-defeating brain drain by offering visas to highly educated immigrant scientists, mathematicians and engineers who receive advanced degrees from American universities.

In the meantime, undocumented immigrants in this country who registered and passed background checks would be allowed to stay and work in the country -- but they would have to wait until the backlog was cleared and the border security benchmarks were met before they could apply for permanent resident status.

Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), stand accused of doing the right thing for the wrong reason -- pushing an immigration bill not to resolve the problem but to deal Republicans a political blow by outing them as anti-Hispanic. But Republicans do face a choice: Address the problem of illegal immigration by embracing this compromise or allow and encourage the nation to keep screaming about it. So far, it appears they prefer the screaming.

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