November 29, 2005,
"We will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary-worker program."
This was the animating idea of the president's immigration speech on Monday in Tucson. His litany of improvements in border security, and even his acknowledgement of the importance of interior enforcement, were clearly calculated to make his guest-worker-program-cum-amnesty more palatable to conservatives.
The current issue of Time magazine has a revealing quote from "a Republican official close to the White House" about the president's approach to supporters of immigration enforcement: "Bush decided to give these guys their rhetorical pound of flesh. In return, he wants a comprehensive bill, which is what he has always wanted. He's just going to lead with a lot of noise about border security."
We are glad that Bush finally seems to realize how dismayed conservatives are about the chaotic, lawless state of our immigration system, but he will have to do more to convince us that he is offering more than "a lot of noise." The Tucson speech, and another one today in El Paso, are intended to kick off what some officials are calling "Border Security Month." (Shouldn't every month be Border Security Month?) His enforcement proposals are welcome, even if the president is playing a game of catch up. The president specifically mentioned:
Interior repatriationBush touted "an innovative approach" that returns Mexican illegals closer to their hometowns so they will be less likely to sneak in again. But the Border Patrol started doing it more than 50 years ago.
Catch-and-releaseAs the number of non-Mexican illegals caught at the southern border has increased, the Border Patrol has been forced by the lack of detention space to let them go on their own recognizance, hoping they'll show up for their deportation hearings. (They don't.) For the president to boast that his administration plans real soon now to stop releasing illegal aliens into the country is not awfully comforting.
Unmanned aerial vehicles"Technology can help an individual agent have broader reach and more effectiveness," the president said, citing the surveillance value of UAVs. What he didn't mention was that the government was shamed into using these drones by ordinary citizens frustrated with federal inaction who, more than two years ago, built their own drones and posted the aerial images on the Internet.
Verifying legal statusThe president for the first time importantly acknowledged that immigration control doesn't stop at the border: "America's immigration laws apply across all of America, and we will enforce those laws throughout our land." He specifically pointed to Basic Pilot, the voluntary program that allows employers to verify online that new hires are eligible to work in the U.S. But the administration made no effort to save it from extinction in 2003, when the loose-borders faction in Congress tried to prevent its reauthorization. Nor did the president suggest that it be made mandatory for all employers, which is the only way to provide a level playing field for honest businesses.
If Bush really wants to get serious about immigration enforcement, there are measures he could take today that would go a long way toward seeing that "America's immigration laws apply across all of America." For instance, the Social Security Administration could be instructed to reject fake or stolen Social Security numbers submitted by employers on behalf of new hires; or the Treasury Department could change its instructions to banks that currently permit them to accept Mexico's illegal-alien I.D. card for purposes of opening accounts. Such measures would make the U.S. a less-alluring destination for illegals but would require no new funding, no new legislation, and no new computer systems.
The president's belated support for more enforcement inspires little confidence in conservatives who fear a replay of 1986, when millions of illegal aliens were legalized in exchange for hollow promises of future enforcement. If the president wants to persuade Congress and the American people that this time will be different, he must provide actions rather than words, results rather than "noise."