A path through the immigration maze

Dateline 05 April 2006

“America is a nation of immigrants. It makes no sense for the country to turn its back on its history, and everything that has made it the foremost power in the world”. Discuss.

“America is a nation of laws. As a country, the resolve to punish law breakers and reward the law abiding remains essential”. Discuss.

It is difficult to disagree with either of the above statements, but for one side in the immigration debate to repeat, constantly, the first argument and the other to cling tenaciously to the second cannot make for healthy debate.

To make matters worse, it is not easy to see what a voter concerned about these issues can do. Both major parties are deeply divided. In the GOP, free-traders, libertarians and the business lobby see the clear advantages of freer immigration. Yet many in the party are among those most worried at the undermining of American law, the dangers of porous borders to national security, and the absurd pandering of so-called bi-lingual education. (Real bi-lingual education – teaching children in two languages – is a great thing, to which schools should aspire. But in America some liberals advocate keeping Latino kids in an English-free environment, which will keep them trapped in the ghetto).

On the Democrat side, protectionists and unions worry that new immigrants – especially illegal immigrants – will depress wages and keep union members out of jobs. Liberals, by contrast, call for multi-culturism, and demand that illegal immigrants be granted the ‘right’ to education and healthcare. How anyone who doesn’t even have the right to be in the country can claim a right to be educated at its expense remains beyond me.

Nor are the purely political interests of the parties clear. The Democrats cannot offend unions, who provide much of their cash, but see immigrants, most of whom at least start out poor, as natural Democrat voters. The GOP by contrast notes that most Latinos are devout Catholics, who oppose abortion and gay marriage, and support choice in education.

The solution ought to be clear, at least for Republicans. When asked what he thought about the illegal immigration debate, the late Sonny Bono once said “What’s to debate? It’s illegal”. If the nation wants freer immigration it should give priority to those who play by the rules and apply using the proper channels, not grant an amnesty to those already inside the US. An amnesty would send out a devastating message: “cheat and lie, that’s the best way to get American citizenship. Those who obey the rules will be ignored.”

But is there a practical political program which will deal with the estimated 11 million illegals already in the country? It is easy to say increase the penalties, but that only works if you can find people.

One thing is certain: this issue is rising up the political agenda. Only a small percentage spontaneously name it as an issue which concerns them, but those that do are passionate on the subject. Rep Tom Tancredo, (R. Colorado) is a strong campaigner on this issue. If nothing is done to defuse it, he will surprise pollsters and party chiefs alike by the strength of his support in the 2008 primaries.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 05 April 2006

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