The debate about illegal immigration has hit Congress full force. In the end, the real issue in choosing between the president's proposal to sanction illegal aliens with provisional worker status and the tougher counterproposal by many in Congress, is that in addressing the problem of undocumented workers, we somehow might harm American businesses and the economy.
Moreover, it's loudly apparent that -- as predicted months ago in this column -- both the White House and the Republican-led Congress are late to the table in tackling this volatile situation.
I tend to side with those who call for a serious effort to close our borders. Yet, I'm not convinced that Bush's proposal doesn't contain some wise provisions that would benefit us all, including the most hardcore conservatives.
Consider the results of a recent InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research survey, conducted for the Washington, D.C.-based Southern Political Report.
The poll surveyed nine states in the Deep South, where immigration issues are simmering. Forty-one percent of respondents favored cutting off benefits, such as Medicaid, to illegal aliens. Thirty-seven percent preferred that businesses that hire illegals be punished. The rest were undecided.
This was no small survey, with over 4,000 respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.
The results tell me that there has been no crystallization of public opinion on this issue, even in a region of the country where the number of illegal aliens has exploded.
This collective ambivalence on the part of Southerners may account for the willingness of the White House to chance a proposal that would offer a "temporary" work program as an essential component to any federal bill.
My inclination is to support the repatriation of illegal aliens to their countries of origin. Most of them work, but they don't pay taxes, even though many frequent the basic tax-supported institutions of our society, including schools and hospital emergency rooms.
And yet the businessman and investor in me says the hard-line approach might not be the one taken by my hero, Ronald Reagan. What would he have done?
First, let's consider that many illegal workers are willing to work jobs that pay too little to attract much of anyone else. Yet even with this huge pool of willing hands, it's still almost impossible for all the businesses that need such labor to find enough of it.