The American people are not of one mind about immigration. But they care. And that is a bad combination for politicians who would like to write good law, and still get reelected.
The issue is packed with emotion, making it a god-send for talk radio and for nine Republican presidential candidates to use the “debates” to attack courageous Arizona Senator John McCain, who for the second year is trying to craft a bipartisan bill with--horrors--Ted Kennedy and about an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
The obvious shouting points are amnesty, which many see as rewarding (and encouraging) law-breakers, and securing our borders, a very legitimate and difficult issue.
Just when anal retentive Republicans thought it couldn’t get any worse, their president proposed a route to citizenship for an estimated 12 million illegals in our country. They exploded to the extent that the Republican National Committee has laid off 65 fundraisers to save them from verbal abuse when calling the base. Besides, they weren’t raising any money.
Many of the 70-80 percent of Americans to the left of the GOP base also express varying degrees of discomfort with (“by any other name…”) amnesty. But they have heard no counterproposal that makes better sense, so are less agitated.
A few believe that levying a fine of perhaps $5000 on folks who may earn $12,000 a year may make them want to stay under the radar. But, it has a nice punitive feeling about it.
Language also gets in the way. Legislators are differentiating between English being our “official” language or our “national” language, with presumably some less desirable consequences flowing from its designation as official, such as precluding bilingual ballots.
Undeniably language makes a difference. Culture and language seem inseparable, and multicultural nations have poor track records over time.
Not only does the large Francophone population in Canada make for a lot more signs, but represents a threat to geographic unity with Quebeckeres threatening to secede and split English-speaking Canada.
But this lesser issue also may be a straw-man because a recent poll shows 82% of third-generation Hispanic immigrants speak English at home.
Securing our borders is another matter.
Just this week we were informed three men from Trinidad and Guyana were plotting with a 30-year resident-immigrant to enter our nation and blow up Kennedy airport, once more reminding us that border security and domestic law enforcement are more important to our nation’s security than aircraft carriers, intercontinental missiles and armed men on the streets of Baghdad.
Diverting some of the Pentagon’s nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars annual budget scattered among various government departments to patrolling borders and manning checkpoints makes great good sense.
Does building a fence of 70 miles or 700 miles make sense? I don’t know, but I do know it is symbolically bad. And that we must not forget we have a northern border, the one I drove over and back about three years ago without seeing anyone or anything except a welcome sign.
Finally, guest workers. Any? How many? How long? What can we learn from European nations who have had three generations of guest workers within their borders without a route to citizenship with some disturbing effects?
How much will guest workers depress American wages? Or, without them, will crops rot in the fields?
These are tough questions, and several Republicans, including the president and two senators from Arizona, deserve great credit for getting them before Congress.
I understand Congresswoman Nancy Boyda, the bull’s-eye on the Republican 2008 congressional target, promised on Jim Cates Topeka radio show she will not vote for the bipartisan Senate bill as presently constituted. That can mean many things to many people, including Boyda, because the bill is still subject to amendment and passage by both houses.
Rarely has such an important issue come before Congress with less sense of its partisan political impact--except maybe for short-term Republican fund-raising. So, Nancy, you are on your own, and best advised to vote your best judgment.
We all want a humanitarian, economically-sound law. But, we may have trouble recognizing it when we see it.
Dr. Roy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org