Why does inaction trump problem-solving on Immigration?

Ever wonder why more people don’t ask this question?

I think there are several reasons why Washington has overlooked dealing with our immigration problem. The first has to do with politics. The second has to do with will.

This article in today’s Washington Post examines the benefits of the recently proposed comprehensive immigration reform measures.The multifaceted approaches proposed by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), which would deploy new personnel and technology to the border, coupled with employment verification and a path to eventual legal status for undocumented immigrants already here. Their legislation remains in draft form, and will stand no chance unless they are successful at attracting a few Republican votes. Today that seems unlikely.

That’s too bad, because the approach they proposal, while has its admitted shortcomings, offers a reasonable approach to addressing our immigration problems. The Schumer bill (Mr. Graham has since withdrawn his support) extensively outlines how the law would tighten enforcement and allegedly stop the entry of undocumented immigrants.  This includes more Border Patrol officers would keep an eye on the nation’s frontiers, and more agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement would battle smuggling and check workplaces. The Pentagon would be called on to deploy equipment to shut down illegal crossings, along with helicopters, speedboats, night-vision equipment, unmanned drones and high-tech surveillance systems. These efforts, while seen by too many as the only way to win support for any immigration reform, comes close to creating U.S. equivalent of the Berlin Wall.  This insanely wasteful use of resources is believed to be the necessary compromises to attract the small number of GOP senators whose support is needed to pass the bill.

Schumer’s proposal also proposes a new high-tech Social Security card that would include biometric data to be used exclusively to check employment eligibility. Employers, who theoretically constitute the most effective checkpoint in terms of shutting down undocumented immigration, would no longer be able to use the excuse of ignorance or a porous system to justify their hiring of people who are in the country illegally. The problem here is that there are inadequate penalties for employers who DO hire undocumented workers. This was a major problem with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, and has been largely ignored in every immigration reform measure since.

The best news here is that the measure would clear the backlog of some 2.6 million relatives of U.S. citizens who are awaiting visas — a process estimated to take eight years — and stop a self-defeating brain drain by offering visas to highly educated immigrant scientists, mathematicians and engineers who receive advanced degrees from American universities.

In addition, undocumented immigrants in this country who registered and passed background checks would be allowed to stay and work in the country. They would have to wait until the backlog was cleared and the border security benchmarks were met before they could apply for permanent resident status. While this may seen like a problem for many immigration advocates, I think offering temporary visas to the current undocumented is a great way to undercut the labor market’s strong desire for
undocumented labor.

In this midst of all this sane, reasoned approach to immigration, what have we initiated?

This gets me back to my first question: why are we more likely to do nothing than something that will actually address our immigration problem? (answers soon)

As I blogged yesterday evening, the Obama administration has initiated a massive increase in border security, which is discussed in this article in the NYT:

The President has decided to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to bolster security at the Mexican border, and in my opinion, is pandering to the nativists and wasting an opportunity to attempt reform a-la Schumer.

The administration has said that the troops are being sent ONLY to combat drug smuggling, and in part because of the recent murder of an Arizona rancher who was murdered by narcos.  By focusing on border security, however, the president may be undercutting his own efforts at immigration reform by:

“giving up his best leverage for winning approval of broader but more politically contentious steps to address the status of the millions of immigrants already in the United States illegally, and the needs of employers who rely on their labor.

“I’m trying to reconcile the stated belief of this president when he was a candidate, what he has said publicly — as recently as a naturalization ceremony last month — and what his actions are,” said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning organization that is a close ally of the Obama administration. “I think there’s a big gap there.”

Mr. Obama’s decision to send the National Guard focused attention on the intense political pressures facing him as he wades into the issue during this midterm election year. Republicans are demanding that he improve border security before they cooperate on an immigration bill. Some moderate Democrats facing difficult re-election races are also demanding tougher action at the border. 

There is no doubt that many have questioned the President’s intentions regarding immigration reform.  Although I can see why border enforcement *may* help win the support of some Republicans, I have to ask: Has the President be paying attention during the last two years?  Has he not seen that they’re willing to fight him on just about everything simply to deny him a victory?

I think that increasing border security works to mollify the nativists and others who are simply freaked out by the changes they’ve seen in their communities regarding immigration.  Enforcing the border gives some of fellow citizens the false sense of security that they can “take back America” from the newcomers.  This is complete fiction, certainly, but it makes them feel better. 

I also think that Democrats need to have some political will to actually fight this fight.  They may lose. That would be terrible.  But if our leaders refuse to have a rational debate about the issues, including issues of racism and nativism that are so prevalent and yet so rarely acknowledged, addressed, or even called out, the nation is bound to continue on the path of believing that throwing enough people and money at the border will somehow take us back to the 1950s.

Dream on.

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