May 19, 2006

An Overview of Recent News & Opinions About Illegal Immigration Debate, Part II

Recent days have been particularly active times in the illegal immigration debate. Since it is difficult to keep up with all that is going on, this is the second of five postings which will present excerpts from a range of news and opinion articles across the MSM and the blogging world.


Can be found here.


From the National Review world, there were two important commentaries on President Bush's speech:

Amnesty Undeniable by the NRO Editors, which notes:

The most important part of Monday night’s speech by President Bush on immigration was not his call for sending unarmed National Guardsmen to temporarily assist the Border Patrol.

Rather, it was his formal embrace, for the first time, of citizenship for illegal aliens.

When he first laid out his view on a foreign-worker program two years ago, he was explicit that illegal aliens could sign up but that "this program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired."

Last night, the president rightly emphasized security, and rightly stressed the importance of assimilation—while advocating a policy that would make assimilation much harder. He adopted the position of Senators Kennedy and McCain and other amnesty supporters, saying that illegal aliens who meet certain conditions should be able to apply for citizenship. He denied that this represented amnesty because "approval would not be automatic"—but when have immigrants ever received "automatic" citizenship?...

Finally, President Bush reassured an anxious Mexican president Vicente Fox over the weekend that any deployment would be only temporary, and that the regular Army would not be involved—in other words, "Don’t worry, Señor Presidente, it’s just symbolism."

As for the Senate’s compromise bill, the Heritage Foundation has released research that should torpedo it. Robert Rector, one of the nation’s leading authorities on poverty and welfare, has estimated that the bill would admit a staggering 103 million people over the next two decades and represent "the largest expansion of the welfare state in 35 years." Supporters of the bill call their approach "comprehensive," and they’re right: They aren’t content merely to deal with the current illegal population or to address a supposed shortage of unskilled labor, but want to effect a massive demographic reshuffling of America while they're at it...

Clintonian at the Border by Rich Lowry, which states:

President Bush has a bold new approach to immigration enforcement: He wants to police the Mexican border with symbolism.

That's the point of his proposal to send the National Guard to our border with Mexico. This represents Bush's final, desperate descent into Clintonian sleight of hand. He wants to distract enough of his supporters with the razzle-dazzle of "National Guard to the Border!" headlines that they won't notice he is pushing through Congress a proposal that essentially legalizes all the population influx from Latin America that has occurred in the past 10 years and any that might occur in the future.

Like President Clinton's gesture of sending more U.S. troops to Somalia after the "Black Hawk Down" battle in Mogadishu, when everyone knew we were really on our way out, Bush's Guard deployment is a prelude to surrender. The immigrants who have come here in defiance of our laws will get to stay, bring their families and be joined by just as many immigrants in the future—at least if Bush gets his way.

...The Guard won't have any real enforcement duties. It will merely provide logistical backup to the Border Patrol. The Guard's presence will be temporary, until a proposed doubling of Border Patrol agents takes place. But if the past is any guide, all of those new positions ultimately won't be funded, once the political heat passes.

Having the National Guard sharpen pencils and fetch coffee for the Border Patrol can't fix our broken immigration system. It is no substitute for a fence, nor for real interior enforcement that punishes employers for hiring illegal labor. The Bush approach to the latter also relies on symbolism. A 26-state immigration raid garnered extensive press attention last month, but most of the aliens arrested were quickly released again...

Bush's heart just isn't in enforcement. Perhaps it's a tribute to his sincerity that he is so bad at faking it. With his sympathy for the struggle of desperate people coming here for work, his "compassionate conservatism" doesn't stop at the Rio Grande. And it is reinforced by his chamber-of-commerce conservatism that wants to welcome the world's huddled masses as long as they will work without complaint on hot roofs for cheap wages.

The Senate bill Bush hopes to help pass would put 12 million illegal aliens on the path to citizenship, double the level of legal immigration from 1 million to 2 million a year and welcome hundreds of thousands of guest workers, according to the Washington Times. Those are the numbers that reflect Bush's true policy preferences, not the couple of thousand unarmed National Guard.


Peggy Noonan has written:

What was missing in the president's approach the other night was the expression, or suggestion, of context. The context was a crisis that had gone unanswered as it has built, the perceived detachment of the political elite from people on the ground, and a new distance between the president and his traditional supporters...

Without an established context the speech seemed free-floating: a statement issued into the ether, unanchored to any particular principle...

What was needed was a definitive statement: As of this moment we will control our borders, I'm sending in the men, I'm giving this the attention I've given to the Mideast.

Once that is done, all else follows. "Comprehensive solution" seems like code for "some day we may do something". No one believes in comprehensive solutions. They believe in action they can see. No one believes in the wisdom of government, but they do believe it has a certain brute power.

The disinterest in the White House and among congressional Republicans in establishing authority on America's borders is so amazing--the people want it, the age of terror demands it--that great histories will be written about it. Thinking about this has left me contemplating a question that admittedly seems farfetched: Is it possible our flinty president is so committed to protecting the Republican Party from losing, forever, the Hispanic vote, that he's decided to take a blurred and unsatisfying stand on immigration, and sacrifice all personal popularity, in order to keep the party of the future electorally competitive with a growing ethnic group?

This would, I admit, be rather unlike an American political professional. And it speaks of a long-term thinking that has not been the hallmark of this administration. But at least it would render explicable the president's moves.

The other possibility is that the administration's slow and ambivalent action is the result of being lost in some geopolitical-globalist abstract-athon that has left them puffed with the rightness of their superior knowledge, sure in their membership in a higher brotherhood, and looking down on the low concerns of normal Americans living in America...

Mark Krikorian disagrees with Noonan:

I don't think that either of Peggy Noonan's two explanations today for the president's behavior on immigration is entirely satisfactory...

Both probably have a grain of truth to them, but I get asked this question all the time and the conclusion I've come to is this: The president is morally and emotionally opposed to immigration enforcement, especially on the Mexican border. He sees it as uncompassionate and un-Christian, at best a necessary evil that must be entered into with the greatest reluctance and abandoned as soon as is practical. And this is especially true with regard to Mexico because he sees it as a "cousin" nation, like Britain or Israel, and thus enforcing immigration laws against Mexicans is even worse than doing so against Chinese or Pakistanis.

I don't say this to hurl epithets — President Bush is a conviction politician and sincerely believes this, which is why he sticks to his anti-enforcement guns despite potentially catastrophic political damage...

The political implication is that the House Republicans need to understand that there is no difference to be split with the president on immigration. They must oppose him categorically on the issue and become, in effect, the loyal opposition on immigration. So the best tack for the House would be to wait for the Senate to pass the amnesty bill (if, in fact, that happens), and then refuse to go to conference and repass the original Sensenbrenner bill (after massaging the two provisions that have gotten the most negative attention — downgrade the felony of illegal presence to a misdemeanor and put in a (totally unnecessary) exception for nuns serving illegals at soup kitchens). Putting as much distance as possible between themselves and president on immigration is probably the only way the House Republicans can keep their majority.


Samuelson offers this commentary:

President Bush's immigration speech mostly missed the true nature of the problem. We face two interconnected population issues. One is aging; the other is immigration. We aren't dealing sensibly with either, and as a result we face a future of unnecessarily heightened political and economic conflict. On the one side will be older baby boomers demanding all their federal retirement benefits. On the other will be an expanding population of younger and poorer Hispanics -- immigrants, their children and grandchildren -- increasingly resentful of their rising taxes that subsidize often-wealthier and unrelated baby boomers.

Does this look like a harmonious future?

But you couldn't glean the danger from Bush's speech Monday night. Nor will you hear of it from most Democrats and (to be fair) the mainstream media. There is much muddle to our immigration debate. The central problem is not illegal immigration. It is undesirably high levels of poor and low-skilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal, most of whom are Hispanic. Immigrants are not all the same. An engineer making $75,000 annually contributes more to the American economy and society than a $20,000 laborer. On average, the engineer will assimilate more easily.

Testifying recently before Congress, University of Illinois economist Barry Chiswick -- a respected immigration scholar -- said this of low-skilled immigrants:

"Their presence in the labor market increases competition for low-skilled jobs, reducing the earnings of low-skilled native-born workers. . . . Because of their low earnings, low-skilled immigrants also tend to pay less in taxes than they receive in public benefits, such as income transfers (e.g., the earned income tax credit, food stamps), public schooling for their children, and publicly provided medical services. Thus while the presence of low-skilled immigrant workers may raise the profits of their employers, they tend to have a negative effect on the well-being of the low-skilled native-born population, and on the native economy as a whole."

Hardly anyone is discussing these issues candidly. It is politically inexpedient to do so. We can be a lawful society and a welcoming society simultaneously, to use the president's phrase, but we cannot be a welcoming society for limitless numbers of Latin America's poor without seriously compromising our own future -- and, indeed, the future of many of the Latinos already here. Yet, that is precisely what the president and many senators (Democratic and Republican) support by endorsing large "guest worker" programs and an expansion of today's system of legal visas. In practice these proposals would result in substantial increases of low-skilled immigrants.

How fast can they assimilate? We cannot know, but we can consult history. It is sobering....[Details follow in the article.]...

There are striking parallels between how we've treated immigration and aging. In both cases, the facts are hiding in plain view. But we've chosen to ignore them because candor seems insensitive and politically awkward. Who wants to offend the elderly or Latinos? The result is to make our choices worse by postponing them. A sensible society would long ago have begun adapting to longer life expectancies, better health and greater wealth by making careful cuts in Social Security and Medicare. We've done little.

...People who don't think there will be conflicts between older beneficiaries and younger taxpayers -- Hispanic or not -- are deluding themselves. People who imagine there won't be more conflicts between growing numbers of poor Latinos and poor African Americans for jobs and political power are also deluding themselves...

Part III to follow...

For previous posting information, refer to Part I of this posting.