Saturday, June 09, 2007


Immigration Reform - a Failure?

Apparently two notions have stalled, if not killed, the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Reform Bill in the Senate. Words to express these notions are (1) FENCE and (2) AMNESTY.

About the FENCE: Conservative bloggers are touting the claim that a majority of the public wants some sort of control established over immigration before doing anything about the immigrants who are already here without papers. They argue, and I can't dispute it, that it makes no sense at all to claim to be controlling the immigration process as long as we have such leaky borders that hundreds of thousands of individuals can enter the country each year without visas. Hence, conservative and moderate Senators were unwilling to bring the bill to a vote with the existing provisions. If any bill passes the Senate, it must be one that places control of the borders as the first priority.

One of the problems is that Americans always try to solve a difficult problem on the cheap. We want to build a fence so impenetrable that no human can get through, under, or over it without being detected and captured. Such a fence will be difficult to design and expensive to build and maintain. We American taxpayers, being a bunch of skinflints, may choke at the bill for a high-tech fence. You see, there are animals that migrate between the United States and its neighbors on the South and the North. The fence will have to permit this migration and still prevent the human migration that now occurs.

Another approach is to place guardhouses along the border within sight of each other all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean (in the case of Mexico) and to the Atlatic Ocean (in the case of Canada. I estimate that there would have to be at least five guard houses per mile. I'll leave it as a simple exercise for you to figure out the number of guard houses, the number of guards, the salaries of the guards, the maintenance of the guard houses, and all the rest that contribute to the cost of making the borders impenetrable.

Neither the fence nor the guard houses would achieve a perfect solution. Fences can be cut, tunneled under, climbed over, flown over, etc. Guards can be outnumbered and overpowered. Individual guards can be bribed. Nothing is perfect. However, either approach might suffice to calm the anxiety of our citizens over the threatened flood of immigrants who come with a different language, a different set of cultural beliefs and customs, and a different skin color.

About AMNESTY: This is a framing word. People have conducted opinion polls and found that a majority of the public favors providing the illegal immigrants who are here already a path toward legality and citizenship if they want it. The path would include a fine, payment of back taxes, learning to speak and write English, and other appropriate punishments. However, if you ask the same question, include all the fines and back taxes, etc., but include the word "AMNESTY," the public is opposed. Paying a fine and back taxes, including penalties, studying a difficult language, and so on, is acceptable as long as it isn't called "AMNESTY." Perhaps the question should be phrased to include fines, back taxes, and learning English but not giving them AMNESTY. Perhaps then the public would accept the proposition.

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