Wednesday, April 16, 2008

After “Enforcement First,” What Comes Second?

“Enforcement first.”

It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I mean, with all those illegal immigrants running around, the last thing we want is enforcement last ... right?

The phrase sounds so forcefully no-nonsense that 10 Republican senators last month formed something called the “Border Security and Enforcement First Caucus.”

The group wants to “let Americans know that some in the U.S. Senate are continuing to make sure that the laws already on the books will be enforced ... push for stronger border security and interior enforcement legislation, and work together in the U.S. Senate to defeat future legislation that offers amnesty.”

That’s not “enforcement first,” which even in its law-’n’-orderish bluntness implies there’s something that comes second. No, what these guys want is enforcement only.

And that is going to fail. Significantly, none of the founding members is from a border state.
That’s because a lot of people near the border know that building fences and raiding restaurant kitchens are not going to solve the problem. Only comprehensive immigration reform, combined with sensible enforcement, can significantly lower the number of illegal entries or even begin to do anything about the more than 12 million people living and working in the United States illegally.

The fence, in particular, is a colossal waste of money. Like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has said, “If you’re going to build a 12-foot wall, you know what’s going to happen? A lot of 13-foot ladders.” That is what people do when they can earn far more money to feed their families on the other side of the fence.

Yet the Bush administration, which supported comprehensive reform before going weak in the knees after too many punches from the right, insists on spending nobody-really-knows-how-much on a border wall. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last year estimated it would cost $2.1 billion for 700 miles, and more recently the Congressional Research Service (which works under the Library of Congress and also is nonpartisan) said maintenance over a projected 25-year life span of the fence could run as much as $49 billion. And that’s for 700 miles, remember, out of a border that’s nearly 2,000 miles long.

The rush to squander that money has reached such a frenetic pace that last week Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary, waived any and all laws that might slow “the expeditious construction of barriers,” claiming that Congress gave him the authority to ignore any regulation he doesn’t like, including those that protect the environment as well as those that protect private property.
So, the United States government will disrupt wildlife, trample landowners’ property rights, and make itself look like an East Germany in reverse, all to spend untold billions on a border wall most would-be illegal immigrants will get past anyway. And that’s to say nothing of people who entered through legal means then overstayed their visas — border fences will have zero effect on the 40 percent of illegal immigrants expected to come in like that.

If somebody can point to a domestic policy that is more fraudulent, please let me know. At least it’s a good time to invest in companies that make 13-foot ladders.

This monument to politicians’ desperation to look like they’re doing something about illegals is a result of last year’s failure to pass a comprehensive immigration-reform bill. The legislation, a version of a bill originally co-sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy, called for almost 14,000 new Border Patrol agents during the next five years, more electronic surveillance, tougher sanctions for employers who hire the undocumented and a requirement for tamper-resistant, biometric green cards.

But it was not enforcement-only: The bill allowed people here illegally to become citizens if they had no criminal record, paid a fine and went to the back of the line. An earlier version also increased the number of people permitted to come, raising legal immigration to a level more in tune with the demands of the economy.

After reform went down in Congress even McCain started talking about enforcement first. Nearly a year later, all we have is plans for a wall.
Well, doesn’t that look like “enforcement first” already won? And if we already got it, will the Senator from Arizona speak to what comes second?

No comments: