Saturday, March 12, 2005

Immigration And Security: What's A Conservative To Do?

Following a link from Hugh Hewitt, I find the Hedgehog Blog where something fascinating is going on. It's a real, live, honest-to-goodness call for a (gasp!) debate on the issue of immigration and security in the post-9/11 age. This is precisely the kind of event the blogosphere excels at when it's at its best and I am quite happy to see it on this topic particularly.

The focus of the debate is primarily, of course, on the President's plan for fixing the current immigration plan. I've already written on my perspectives here, but this is the first call to real debate I've seen. From the Hedgehog:

::::::::In her Weekly Standard piece, "Law and Borders," Tamar Jacoby makes the best case I have seen for the Bush immigration plan. As Jacoby details, Bush's plan is true to every single principle listed above, and it is realistic. The plan would restore the rule of law, would enable us to concentrate resources on keeping terrorists out of the country, would require immigrants to commit to becoming assimilated Americans, and would rationalize the way we provide services to immigrants. It would remove us forever from the current situation in which everyone knows what is going on but allows it to continue with only winks and nods in place of a real policy.

Read the Jacoby piece, then consider my questions for those who, like one of my favorite radio talk show hosts, Laura Ingraham, zealously attack the Bush plan:
  • What is your plan, and how will you get it enacted?

  • Do you really think the American public has the stomach to see 10 million people deported, many of whom have been here all their lives?

  • If the public is not ready to do that, are you prepared to see the Republican Party spend the political capital necessary to convince them?

  • What if we fail to convince them? Where will the party be then?

::::::::

This is an excellent first step and a requirement to true debate. You can't evaluate options when you don't know what they are. All the options should be put up on the table and examined, seriously. Some will only require a few seconds before being discarded and others will likely generate debate even long after a course of action has been decided. There are comments to the post over at Hedgehog that are bringing options already and I encourage everyone to read them. In this spirit, I'd like to offer my answers to the debate.

My initial plan was a simple one: enforce the law. If someone's here illegally, they go back where they came from, period. If they want to come here to live, they enter into the process the legal way, the way several of my legal-resident friends have done. But they don't do that from here, where they cheated the system and snuck in through a hole in the fence, sometimes literally. How will I get it enacted? We cut foreign aid for 3 years to any country that pursues a policy of actively opposing us in the UN, who has not instituted democratic reforms, and/or supports terrorist organizations as defined by the US State Department. Those funds go immediately to the INS, Border Patrol, and US Marshalls for the express purpose of sealing all the leaks in the border and locating people who are here illegally. We apply the same military-grade technology that we're using in Iraq and Afghanistan to our borders and we adopt a zero-tolerance policy (hey, the Left loves that term, right?) toward people trying to bust the border. This is a security situation, folks, not a sightseeing stop. Try to penetrate the border and you're taking your life in your hands - we will shoot real bullets.

If we want to enact this "foreign worker" program the President is talking about, fine, but those people here illegally will not benefit from their illegal acts.

In all honesty, Lowell Brown, the man behind the Hedgehog, clearly thinks this kind of response is unworkable and wrong and, in spite of asking for people to articulate their plans, he's already arguing against this aproach. Look at the remaining questions he asks and you can see it. When someone asks, "Do you really think...," they're not asking for your confirmation of your position. They're politely offering you the chance to change your mind about whatever they're asking. Say, "Yes, I do," in response and watch what happens. The remaining questions just go further along that same trail offering yet more arguments in the form of questions. In this case, he's arguing that the American people will not support 10 million people deported and that the Republican Party will have to expend political capital to convince them. Then, he raises the specter of what happens when, after that expenditure, the people still won't support it.

Briefly, I would submit that there's a lot more people out here in America that don't like people coming here illegally and then making demands of our support systems than Mr. Brown assumes. I'm also unsure of how many is "many" when he says that many "have been here all their lives." (That implies they've been born here. If they were born here, aren't they Americans? Now there's a debate in itself!) This point touches on the primary problem I have with the concept of an amnesty type of approach. First, let's be up front. If we're going to say to people who illegally crossed our border - a crime that carried with it a penalty that included getting sent back to wherever they came from - that we'll just overlook that teensy issue and that they can stay, then we're offering them amnesty. Tamar Jacoby says, in the article linked by Brown, that the President's plan would "[n]ot necessarily" be an amnesty and that it would depend on how it's done. However, that statement right there acknowledges that it might, in fact, be just that. Jacoby is quick to point out that illegals should not received a free pass on their criminal trespass, however, and I'm interested in hearing more about that. There's also a mention about illegals having to "earn their way back onto the right side of the law" which also sounds a bit more promising.

So, in the spirit of debate and that oh-so-elusive yet crucial-for-democracy quality known as "compromise," I am willing to seek a common ground. I would be willing to support the President's initiative to bring illegals into the fold with certain assurances. I would be willing to support the foreign worker program so long as our international partner in the matter would adhere to requirements. Let's start in inverse order and say what another country would need to do for this foreign worker program to work.

First, that country would need to agree to make the process by which their citizens who wish to participate do so without dealing with corrupt officials. That means that their citizens don't have to cough up bribes to simply fill out forms and get their place in the queue. That means that the process is subject to oversight and audit such that a single clerk can't open the door for a group of terrorists and get them all in around the security processes. Which leads me to the next requirement, that the country in question would provide and maintain a system by which their citizens' identities can be confirmed on their way in to the US. If a man shows up with a Mexican birth certificate, there needs to be a system in place that can positively confirm this document is legit. Finally, if that country maintains a border with us - and now I guess we're talking Canada and Mexico - then that country needs to actively secure its borders such that their citizens aren't trying to get around our border patrol. That country needs to advise it's people, in whatever fashion they need to to be sure it's done, that the US is going to start firing on people trying to circumvent our borders. There will be no appeals and there will be no lawsuits. If someone tries to sneak in through the Arizona desert under the cover of darkness and that person is noticed, then he's playing with his life and anything that happens to him as a result is his fault.

Note that I'm not saying we have to fire on everyone doing so, only that the option is ours to take as it is seen fit. Again, people looking to sneak past do so at their risk.

Now, what assurances am I looking for to support this program? First, that people who are illegally here must come forward and be recognized by a certain date. No exceptions. Any illegal caught in the US after that date who was here prior to that date gets sent back to their country of origin without delay and without appeal. That individual is blacklisted so far as entry to the US is concerned for life. No foreign worker program, no H-1B visa, no tourist visa, no student visa. They're persona non grata here in the US and we wish them well in their endeavors abroad. Have a nice day. This "grace period" should be long enough to make sure the message gets to all residents of the US, legal or illegal, but I'm not talking about a year, here. Six months, perhaps. And once the date is set, there is to be no extension made.

From the date the previously-illegal (let's call them "normalized", a term I heard over at Hugh Hewitt's place and it seems to fit) gets into the system that person is under a sort of probationary residence. Prior to achieving legal residency, the commission of any felony whatsoever revokes that person's normalized status and that person becomes persona non-grata to the US. Same as above: he goes back to his country of origin and he is not permitted back into the states again, period.

Normalized immigrants should not be eligible for unemployment benefits. It is not right that the people of the United States should have to pay the way for someone who came here illegally in the first place. They came here to work in the US, so work.

Normalized immigrants can acquire a drivers' license for the purpose of operating a motor vehicle only and that license is to be marked as such in some hugely obvious way. That means that such a license cannot be used to acquire a passport or visa or any other form of identification in any way. These licenses should also use some form of biometrics to positively identify the bearer. As an addendum to being able to drive, every single immigrant to this country should be required to learn a practical and working knowledge of English, both spoken and written. They will be driving the same roads and using the same signage as the rest of us. They need to be predictably able to understand what they're seeing and hearing. A written and spoken test should be given to each immigrant before they're licensed to drive.

Normalized immigrants should be assigned a tax ID and taxes withheld from their pay like everyone else. Failure to do so should visit a very stiff penalty upon the employer involved.

Finally, the status of "normalized immigrant" is neither permanent nor something that future immigrants should be granted. For those that are here illegally and abide by the rules to become legal, there should be regular milestones to be met. Their passage of the language requirement, for one, and the length of time they can be here in this country looking for a job should have deadlines. Failure to meet that deadline means they go home. (In these cases, it's not a permanent thing. They can apply again to come to the US.) A normalized immigrant is one who was here illegally and came forward within the window of recognition. People coming here illegally after that window starts aren't part of the deal and those people should be sent home, no questions asked.

If these conditions, or a set very similar to them, are met, then I would be willing to support the idea of not sweeping the country looking for illegals to deport. I'm looking forward to further public debate on the issue.