The real national language

Posted: May 23, 2006 12:05 AM

As far as I can see, when President Bush talks about a "rational middle ground" on the immigration front, what he really means is that Congress should pass more immigration laws that no American president will bother to enforce.

So, when Bush talks about getting tougher on the border, while easing the path to citizenship for some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, I don't believe a word of his tough talk. Where Bush sees some 12 million illegal immigrants yearning for legal status, I see the millions more who will interpret a feckless new law as an invitation to come to the United States, and U.S. immigration law be damned.

Only one thing will make me believe and support a compromise that grants citizenship to illegal residents: If Bush orders the feds to raid a high-profile employer every week for the rest of the year and then prosecutes some of the suits who wittingly hire illegal workers.

Forget the photo-op at the border.

Give me a photo-op that will help depolarize the magnet of American jobs.

After all, it's not exactly a state secret which industries and employers hire illegal workers. The utter failure to prosecute these employers would be baffling, except that it is so clear that neither Bush nor senators of either party want to enforce the law.

On "Face the Nation" Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proclaimed that California was the biggest state when it comes to hiring undocumented workers, with many undocumented workers in landscaping, construction, the service sector and agriculture. She argued, "Employer sanctions don't work. Every time an employer is raided and arrested, there is a public outcry, because basically people have sympathy with those who are here and work hard, long hours and want to live the American dream."

Public outcry? I have sympathy with those who come here and work illegally -- but not for the executives who hire them contrary to immigration law.

The closest thing to an outcry I can remember occurred in 2003, when House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi accused the Bushies of "terrorizing" workers after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided a number of Wal-Mart stores for hiring and contracting undocumented janitors.

Pelosi certainly wasn't in step with the 59 percent of California voters who in 1994 supported Proposition 187 to withhold services from illegal immigrants.

Some conservatives argue that illegal immigration is good for the economy. Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute recently told me that if government action forced industries such as meatpacking to pay higher wages, owners would respond by moving their operations to another country.

To which Chicago attorney Howard Foster, who has initiated class-action lawsuits against those who hire illegal aliens, responded that those companies "in effect" already have moved elsewhere.

But instead of moving their plants abroad, employers import workers -- and their poverty -- from Third World countries to the United States.

At least Bush has stopped referring to "the jobs Americans will not take." In his primetime speech last week, Bush spoke of "the jobs Americans are not doing." It seems the Bushies are fed up with being reminded that Americans will take those jobs -- if they pay better wages.

Language is important. It's so important that the Senate voted 63-34 to proclaim English as America's "national language." Yes, English is so important that Washington struggles to mangle the meaning of every word in the debate -- and to pass a "national language" provision that, like everything else in the Senate immigration package, is designed to appear tough but is utterly feckless.

Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., complain bitterly that it is unfair to refer to what they call "earned citizenship" as "amnesty," when amnesty is the proper term for a law that would grant citizenship to illegal residents. Senators tout "guest worker" provisions, even if the provisions will be so under-enforced that most of America's "guests" will never leave.

I buy that Bush believes in his heart he is doing the right thing on immigration. But he doesn't show enough faith in his agenda to sell it truthfully. And he doesn't show enough faith in the law to enforce it vigorously -- especially on white-collar criminals.

Ditto the Senate. Surely, members of Washington's reputed deliberative body know the English provision is a scam.

When it comes to the immigration debate in Washington, double talk is America's national language.

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