Roll on, Immigration Reform

Only in Washington. It appears that the backers of the most recent Senate immigration reform bill are optimistic that they’ll see passage this week, but not because the bill is a stellar piece of legislation, according to today’s Washington Post. No, the bill, all admit, is deeply flawed. “The bill’s authors, as well as advocates of comprehensive immigration legislation, have been arguing that flawed as it is, the measure must go forward legislatively and eventually it will be fixed.” Let’s hope so.

More provocatively, a parallel article by Shankar Vedantam explores the nature of human behavior with unenforceable laws. His examples include a variety of laws: those prohibiting recreational drug use (mainly by middle-class Americans), draft dodgers from the Vietnam era, and highway speed limits. Included here are our very own immigration laws, which are written more to salve our need to believe we’re doing something to regulate immigration, when in fact the U.S. has very little will to limit access undocumented labor.

In the midst of unachievable legislation, Vedantam reports that “amnesties are born,”

For …Douglas Husak and Lawrence Solum, the elephant in the room is that the existing immigration law that underlies the debate has no connection with reality.

Husak and Solum, legal theorists and philosophers, argue that laws on immigration are part of a broad pattern. In recent decades, they say, Congress has passed innumerable laws that no one seriously expects will be enforced. Such laws largely seem to serve symbolic purposes and are often designed to placate some powerful constituency — conservatives in the case of immigration, or the entertainment industry in the case of laws that seek to deter people from swapping copyrighted music and movies.

So, there you have it. Even if the immigration reform proposal eventually becomes law, no one should expect it will make a significant decrease in immigration, undocumented or not.

The reform will make a difference, make no mistake, but if the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) is any indication, the unintended consequences are the differences that should be of concern for most residents of the U.S.

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