Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Illegal Immigration: Will We Get Legislation This Time?

Tamar Jacoby has a typically thoughtful piece in today's Opinion Journal about illegal immigration legislation now pending in Congress. As usual, she addresses the issue that very few politicians, and very few conservative radio hosts, want to address seriously: What to do about the 11 million illegals already here? Here are the proposals Jacoby identifies as currently swirling around the capitol:

  • Sens. Kennedy and John McCain would allow illegals to earn permanent visas without leaving the U.S.--paying a fine and all back taxes, then taking English classes while they wait their turn behind people applying in the usual way from their home countries.
  • Senators Cornyn and Kyl would require the 11 million illegals to come forward and register with the government, then prove they are bona fide laborers, not criminals or security threats. At that point, the Cornyn-Kyl proposal would allow them to work here for five years and then send them home, albeit with the option of returning either as temporary workers or, in some cases, on permanent visas. Some people call this "report to deport" and believe (correctly I think) that very few of the 11 million would participate.
  • Senator Arlen Specter is pushing hard for a compromise. He calls his approach the "gold card," those who earned oneby coming forward would have the right to remain in the U.S. indefinitely. Jacoby notes, however, that these immigrants'
    legal status would be conditional, and as a practical matter they would have no possibility of becoming citizens . . . unless Congress vastly increased the annual quota of permanent visas (green cards)--a difficult step in today's political climate--most would have to wait 60 or 70 years for this prerequisite of citizenship. The result would be a permanent caste of second-class noncitizen workers, people we trusted to cook our food and tend our children and take care of our elderly relatives--but not to call themselves Americans or participate in politics.
  • "Sen. Chuck Hagel . . . argues for requiring the undocumented to go through the normal process, but then makes exceptions for those who have lived in the country for many years, putting down roots and contributing to the economy."

    The entire piece is worth reading. The money quote:
    [T]he one answer that plainly doesn't work is the status quo: an underground economy the size of Ohio that makes an ass of the law and endangers our security. There is just too much at stake not to consider every alternative.

    She's right.


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