Monday, March 14, 2005

Immigration, Carrots, Sticks, and Fences: Let's Talk Solutions


Hugh Hewitt, blogfather to so many of us, links here to this Economist article, "Dreaming of The Other Side of The Wire," and urges comment and analysis. Here we go.

First, read the article. It accurately summarizes the debate as one that

runs a spectrum from the libertarian advocacy of open borders to the isolationist instinct to fence them off. Common ground, however, is that the present system of legal immigration does not work.

Granted, the system is broken. President Bush has proposed a comprehensive approach. Many of my conservative brethren have reacted with vehement opposition. Candidates up for re-election seem to fear upsetting those who oppose the Bush approach (many of whom know nothing about it other than what they have heard on talk radio shows).

So, I continue to ask, what is to be done? Many of the responses to my posts below were very interesting and quite encouraging because they reflected some good thinking and creative approaches to actually solving the problem in a way that honors the key principles at stake:

  • The rule of law
  • National security
  • National cohesion
  • Preservation of traditional values

As he is wont to do, Hugh has helped organize, aggregate, and synthesize the thinking on the issue and offers his idea, soon to be known everywhere as the "carrots and fences" approach; Hugh "favors both President Bush's plan for normalization of the 8 to 12 million illegals already here plus the construction of a border-length fence and highway to patrol it."

Now we're talking. Here's how I see this all fitting together.

Rule of Law And National Security: The Carrot

The Bush plan calls for using the guest worker concept - the carrot- to get a handle on the undocumented aliens here now. The idea is to know who they are and account for their presence. This is critical to the national security principle: It would be much harder for shadowy evildoers to slip into the USA. The plan is also crucial to restoring the rule of law: No more flouting the immigration laws, no more winking and nodding about hiring "illegals," no more underground undocumented immigrant economy. Also, those who were here illegally already when the plan is implemented would not benefit from that; they'd go to the back of the line for permanent resident status.

National Cohesion and Preservation of Traditional Values: The Stick

The Bush plan offers the carrot. But the missing piece is the "stick" Hugh proposes: A fence like the one on the California-Mexico border already, running the length of the border; and a highway, also running the length of the border, to allow Homeland Security to patrol it.

The fence/highway adds the missing piece to the Bush plan: The ability to show everyone-- American voters, Congress, foreign governments, and terrorists-- that the USA is really serious about maintaining border security.

Why is that so important? For one thing, there is considerable concern that the Bush guest worker program will morph into just another amnesty program. I share that concern. The 1986 amnesty did nothing to stem the unregulated tide of immigrants, and probably worsened it, giving hope to those who think that if they just stay here long enough, another amnesty will be granted. If voters and immigrants belief that will happen, any reform effort is doomed. A dramatic step like the fence and highway is necessary to put that belief to rest.

The article makes clear the extent to which the national attitude is both deeply concerned and somewhat ambivalent about the overall issue:

[M]ost Americans instinctively follow the view of Franklin Roosevelt that “all of us are descended from immigrants”. The consequence is a kind of general ambivalence. In a Washington Post poll carried out in January, 61% of the sample said illegal immigrants should be able to keep their jobs and apply for legal status. On the other hand, few Americans favour greater inflows: Gallup in January found that 7% want more immigration; 39% are happy with the current level; and 52% want less.

It's that 52% who want less immigration who won't support the carrot reform without a good stick to go with it. With such a stick, however, we can hold the conservative majority in the country together on this divisive issue (along with a substantial chunk of the center-left).

So the solution on the table right now: carrots and fences.

Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, but we should welcome as immigrants only people who want to come here and become Americans as soon as possible-- full-blown, English-speaking, 4th of July-celebrating, PTA-joining, contributing Americans. Others may come, but should be allowed to do so only with our permission and knowledge, subject to terms America has set. "Carrots and fences" is the best idea of seen yet that will make that happen. And yes, that approach will be expensive, but unless we demonstrate the national will to take that approach-- or something very much like it-- the USA in 25 years will be a much different kind of society than I believe the majority of Americans want it to be.


Jonathan Max Wilson has written a clear-eyed analysis of (1) the serious threat of continued unregulated illegal immigration and (2) the manner in which the Bush principles provide the solution. Read Jonathan's piece here at the GOPUSA site, or on Jonathan's own blog.

Also, Alan Caruba has a must-read reality check for anyone who really wants to know what's at stake in this debate and why we have to get the resolution right. If you've ever read Alan Caruba you know he is about as far from a bleeding heart liberal as anyone can get. His sobering and realistic piece is here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for acting on the importance and urgency you clearly know exists over our border policy--such as it is. Creating this venue and extending invitations to "join the conversations" is a great first step toward two things: identifying appropriate carrots, sticks and fences; and letting the Administration know that while it is correct in identifying the our border policy as a significant problem--one which I think is a bigger problem long term than even international terrorism--it is wrong in its "jello-fist-in-a-rubber-glove" approach.

Thankfully the term "immigrant" in the United States lacks the pejoritive power it once sadly had when the term included "legal" as a "silent partner", an inherent part of our understanding and use of the term. Because the term "immigrant" became freighted with "good will" it has now unfortunately been hijacked by our government and our media as they talk about the "issue of immigration". Immigration is NOT the issue: ILLEGAL immigration is the issue!

Immigration historically meant "LEGAL immigration." Now it doesn't. The advocacy groups and the sympathetic media, aided wittingly and "un" by our government, conflate legal alien residents and illegal aliens under the single term "immigration" not because it it accurate but because it is "soft." And mushy. Persons who buy are customers; persons who steal are not "illegal customers" and such persons are not lumped together with and described as customers or part of the "customer base": they are theives! The term "thief" has "ILLEGAL" as its "silent partner." Immigration does not. It is because it conflates both legal and illegal that it should not be used as the appropriate descriptor when disucssing this issue.

We can not clearly think about that which we can not clearly describe. To think clearly about the problem of illegal resident aliens in our midst we must agree on and use a term that itself carries pejoritive power when discussing ILLEGAL immigration. Because of a benign history the terms "immigrant" and "immigration" have no sense of malignancy or urgency and are wrongly used to describe the problem of illegality facing us at our borders.

Lets get the terminology straight as a big first step to thinking clearly about the problem. Clear thinking about solutions will not then be suddenly easy or even likely. But discussions will be easier and more likely to bear fruit.

Derek Simmons

Posted by Derek Simmons

Monday, March 14, 2005 4:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Within minutes of my post I found another blog just starting a debate on this issue. That blog

seems off to a silly start, but it does contain a link to the following story worth reading:

Derek Simmons 

Posted by Derek Simmons

Monday, March 14, 2005 5:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. How is "Normalization" different from amnesty? The people in question are in violation of the law. Documenting them, and allowing them to stay and keep their jobs without imposing a penalty is granting amnesty, as I see it. Further, it allows profiteering by less than scrupulous business owners.

2. You -- and Hewitt -- mischaracterize a fence by calling it, "The stick." A fence would be a measure taken to prevent further illegal border crossings, not a punitive measure, which is what a stick would be.

Finally, I would ask if you stand by Mr. Hewitt's irrational stance that, one one hand, expelling illegal aliens would destroy California's economy, and on the other hand the whole discussion is equal in importance to the Michael Jackson trial? 

Posted by Mr. Grumpy

Monday, March 14, 2005 6:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Security Highway" that Hugh advocates would probably not be overly costly, but I doubt it would be effective.

Compare the human feat of crossing 20 miles of Sonoran desert with the engineering problem of defeating a fence. Let's see, we can tunnel under it, climb over it, or make holes in it.

If the incentive exists, as it does currently, for thousands upon thousands of crossers to risk death at the hands of coyotes and/or the Sonoran or Chihuahuan deserts I don't see a fence dissuading them in the least.

And if terrorists want to get into the country they aren't going to let a fence stop them, either. More likely they will enter the country legitimately with forged documents, or as just another legitimate, legal immigrant.

Having said all that the idea does represent an improvement over current interdiction efforts, and if the electorate wants to build a fence, I won't stand in the way. If nothing else it represents the only hope for economic development along our southern border in the form of jobs in construction and Border Patrol and INS agents and support.

I predict you will find lots of undocumented immigrants working indirectly (or directly w/ forged I-9 documents) on such a "Security Fence" project. 

Posted by Gringo Salado

Tuesday, March 15, 2005 2:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad a serious discussion is being done here, our Conservative brethren are reacting too emotionally here about trying to find a solution to this problem.

There are millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S., for the most part, going about their business, cooking, busing tables, washing dishes, cleaning hotel rooms, picking crops, and many physically demanding jobs at factories, including slaughterhouses. They have been here for years and have children here. The children are citizens, they do have rights as U.S. citizens. Most of the Mexican people that I know, (that aren't legal) are good people, are religious, and, perhaps, have a better work ethic than many American citizens I know.

The money they earn are subject to Social Security & Medicare taxes, no getting around that. They will not get that money back, because their documentation is not valid, we remove these workers, our system will go bust even sooner.

We do need to have serious dialogue about a resolution to our threat to National Security by our weak borders, but we also need to be sensible and realize that deporting millions of Mexicans will not serve our nation, and, really, is not possible.

Amnesty (for a price) for people who have proof of employment, children in schools, no major infractions of the law, should be considered quickly. Because we REALLY need to tighten up our borders to keep terrorists out!!!

President Bush is wise to at least open up dialogue on this unpopular subject, but like Clintons parting immigration proposal, very hard to implement, too many hoops to jump through. Probably should consider something like Reagan had, charge $1000.00 each or so to legalize immigrants, for those who choose to do so. 

Posted by LuAnn Molloy

Tuesday, March 15, 2005 6:56:00 PM  

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