The president has just served up some domestic policy, a sweeping immigration overhaul, that seems too tough to swallow. Here's hoping Congress sends it back.
Basically, the plan Bush is pitching would confer legal status on millions of illegal aliens who work in this country -- and who, by the way, have already committed a felony in being here. It would grant such aliens guest-worker status for three to six years, provided they have employers who vouch for their jobs. During that same period of time, an amnestied worker could apply for a green card, or permanent residency (an act that currently triggers such an alien's deportation), although he would, under Bush's plan, already enjoy the fruits of permanent residency status, including Social Security benefits and the right to travel from and return to the United States. He could even bring family members into the United States. The same goes for foreign nationals who would seek to participate in the plan, provided they found employment in this country.
This sounds an awful lot like "amnesty" for those who are here illegally, and "welcome" to those who haven't made the trip. The plan sends a "mixed message" at best, as Michael Cutler, a former special agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told CNN's Lou Dobbs. "(O)n the one hand, we don't want you to run the border, but on the other hand, if you do, we'll let you work here and we'll do everything we can to make it convenient for you." He worries that a "human tidal wave" will wash over our borders "if this becomes the way we do business."
All of which sounds like a good way to ensure that the government never gains control of the nation's borders. And isn't that Point A of homeland security? All the more reason to be depressed that it was Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge who sent up the trial balloon on the plan last month when he said that we, as a country, must "come to grips" with the 8 to 12 million illegal aliens in this country. The security czar's bright idea was not to enforce long-flouted existing laws to address the problem, but rather to "afford (illegal aliens) some kind of legal status." While this inkling of amnesty alarmed some 35 members of Congress, who wrote and asked the secretary for clarification and argued against "rewarding people who violate our immigration laws," the issue was lost in the holiday shuffle. Now, in this new (election) year, we must "come to grips" with the president's proposal.
There was nothing good in the Sept. 11 attacks, but in moving the country to a war footing, it did subsequently persuade the president to put the kibosh on a similar amnesty-lite package. While victories in the war on terrorism have been won abroad, the threat remains at home. Extending the form of amnesty President Bush is proposing to illegal aliens in this country, not to mention increasing the numbers of foreign nationals eligible for entry, would only seem to elevate the risk to the country's domestic security. As the 35 congressmen pointed out in their letter to Tom Ridge, Mahmud Abouhalima was an illegal alien granted amnesty in 1986; he used his legal status to join the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Not that amnesty is the plan's only peril: What is to prevent Islamic terror networks, many of which are known to be operating in Latin American countries, from infiltrating the president's guest-worker program?
Analysts call the Bush immigration plan a political move calculated to win Hispanic votes for the president come November -- a risky strategy at best. Worth noting is a study released by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates tighter immigration controls, that argues that the nearly 7 million illegal aliens counted in the 2000 census cost the GOP at least nine House seats during the 2000 redistricting process.
There's a more important question to consider. Has there been a poll or vote since, say, the Louisiana Purchase that reflects a solid or even thin majority of Americans in favor of increasing immigration? Or extending amnesty to illegal aliens? Or granting drivers' licenses to illegal aliens? (Ask Ah-nuld.) Such sentiment, as far as I can tell, doesn't exist. And there's a reason. Immigration laws are on the books to protect Americans. We can only "come to grips" with illegal immigration by enforcing those laws.