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The emerging politics of border security and immigration reform

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted May 22, 2006

America is an exceedingly humane and generous nation, but shouldn't our politicians be concerned with: a) upholding the law, and, b) aiding American citizens first? Well, you wouldn't think so, after listening to Senator John McCain on the 5/21/06 edition of the Fox News Sunday program. He essentially stated that illegal immigrants are entitled to Social Security benefits even if they obtained work in America predicated upon fraudulent documents. Yep, McCain said it was "fair" since the illegals paid into the system. OK, let me get this straight: Illegal aliens commit crimes of identity theft and possessing forged documents, and should be rewarded for doing so. Frankly, I'm appalled, but the politics of immigration reform are sometimes rather strange.

It's not unreasonable to think that illegal aliens should be required to forfeit those particular Social Security contributions. What about beleaguered American tax-payers who have been footing the bills for illegal aliens over many years? Don't they deserve a break? According to The Center for Immigration Studies, the average Mexican illegal costs taxpayers $55,000 each. With that in mind, why not take these Social Security contributions produced under rather dubious circumstances, and utilize them to defer the costs generated by illegal aliens when they accessed, wittingly or unwittingly, our health care, social services, criminal justice, and education systems? Oh, yes, in a perfect world, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of Homeland Security, should be getting a cut of the action as well. But the reality is this: the Senate is hell-bent on providing ill-gotten Social Security benefits to illegals and completing a broad-based legislative package on immigration reform by Memorial Day.

Senator John McCain (Arizona, R) and Senator Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts, D) are sponsoring a bi-partisan "comprehensive" immigration reform bill aimed at addressing the 11 to 20 million illegal aliens in this nation and border security as well. That's a lot on the Senate's plate. Unfortunately, our lovely liberal Senate fails to grasp the obvious: The seminal issue at stake is border security, not paving a path to citizenship for illegal aliens and arranging for their social security benefits. Interestingly, the House of Representatives and most of the American public would be satisfied, at least temporarily, with a truly secure border that would stop the influx of humanity from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and the heck with the other immigration proposals. As to both sides of the aisle in the Senate, they're somewhat out-of-touch with the great unwashed (the American people) and think that they know best. That being said, all Congressional members are driven by election politics, even if their actions manifest in distinct ways.

What should be our focus, irrespective of politics? We need to secure the border as our top priority to immediately stop the flow of illegal immigrants (and possible terrorists) into this nation. Then we can start deporting those illegal aliens who are largely unsavory with criminal histories, most notably individuals associated with violent gang activities and drug running. (As an aside, it kind of makes you wonder if Mexican President Vicente Fox emptied out some of his prison cells and sent us his gangbangers and assorted mobsters. But I digress). In theory at least, once deported, the bad players will be locked out by dint of the secure border and won't be able to sneak back in easily, as they've done in the past.

As noted by Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald in 2004: "Some of the most violent criminals at large today are illegal aliens. Yet in cities where the crime these aliens commit is highest, the police cannot use the most obvious tool to apprehend them: their immigration status. In Los Angeles, for example, dozens of members of a ruthless Salvadoran prison gang have sneaked back into town after having been deported for such crimes as murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and drug trafficking." Hopefully with immigration reform, we'll have a significantly enhanced process to tackle pernicious crime perpetrated by illegals. Regarding secondary issues, including the details of an effective guest worker program and achieving citizenship, they're complicated with long term implications requiring substantive debate. You would think that our Senators would want to take their time and contemplate their navels, but that doesn't seem to be the case. We're being told that the guest worker program is not "amnesty", and requires its participants to pay a substantial fine, pass two English literacy tests, pass criminal background checks (no felony convictions but two misdemeanor convictions allowable), work continuously and carry a biometric identification card that's supposedly tamper-proof. Moreover, any American employer found hiring illegal immigrants will be subjected to tough sanctions.

What's the nitty-gritty on Congressional Republicans? GOP Senators view the political calculus from this perspective: They believe that they must produce a comprehensive immigration reform bill immediately to ensure that the GOP continues its winning streak in 2006 and 2008. With conservatives fulminating about President Bush and the Republicans, the Senate realizes it's "make or break" in efforts to assuage the GOP's key conservative constituency. Moreover, the Senate is striving to keep in the good graces of the largest minority group, the Hispanics, who are clearly in favor of a guest worker program. President Bush appears to be of a similar mindset and, in taking the long view, he's determined to preserve the capacity of the GOP to attract Hispanics in the coming years. The president has made a good start with the American people with his plan to send 6,000 National Guard troops to protect our southern border from incursions, construct border fences and other barriers in populated areas, and apply an array of high-tech means to monitor and bolster the border. The House is sure to beef-up President Bush's border security plan further. In contrast to their counterparts in the Senate, GOP leadership members in the House are advocating a much more limited stance, with a view toward zeroing-in on border protection while leaving all other immigration issues aside for the time being.

Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation analyzed the Senate's proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA, S.2611); and the results should greatly concern Americans. The Heritage report notes: "On Tuesday, May 16, the Senate passed Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-NM) amendment to S. 2611 that significantly reduced the number of legal immigrants who could enter under the bill's "guest worker" program. As a result of this change, our estimate of the number of legal immigrants who would enter the country or would gain legal status under S. 2611 falls from 103 million to around 66 million over the next 20 years." Rector goes on to state that "amnesty and continued low-skill immigration will raise welfare costs and poverty."

How can we, as a nation, properly assimilate even the reduced number of 66 million low-skill economic refugees during the next two decades? And, at what cost? If these immigrants fail to assimilate, we could very possibly wind up balkanized in a nation pitted against itself. We've recently seen how uncontrolled and unassimilated Muslims in France rioted with their significant demands. As to America's future, the numbers of people from Mexico will continue to pour in. These Mexicans might very well engender a successful La Reconquista throughout our Southwest, taking back the land that they had previously lost. That said, Americans would be wise to question the direction the Senate is proposing on projected immigration numbers. Amazing as it might seem, already more than ten percent of the Mexican population now lives in the US.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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