Friday, April 07, 2006

Illegal Immigration: Where's The Fence?

As a charter member of Hugh Hewitt's Carrots and Fences Coalition, I was happy to hear that the Senate passed an immigration bill yesterday. My elation faded to deep disappointment when I learned that the Senate had essentially punted on the question of a security fence. Instead of a real fence, we have the promise of a "process" that will lead to fencing in high traffic areas.

What a disastrous cave-in. The first real chance to deal with the hottest and most vexing domestic issue of the last decade, and they are blowing it.

Hugh Hewitt's post is a must-read today. He once again raises his very sensible, very serious "Carrots and Fences" solution. (By the way, welcome, Hugh's readers!)

Charles Krauthammer is dead-on today:

This is no time for mushy compromise. A solution requires two acts of
national will: the ugly act of putting up a fence and the supremely generous act
of absorbing as ultimately full citizens those who broke our laws to come to

In my earlier post on this very subject, I noted:

Hugh Hewitt . . . 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.


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