For the past week, members of Congress have been engaged in theater of the absurd. Both the Senate and the House have passed immigration bills, but instead of getting down to business and negotiating their way to a compromise, committees of both the House and Senate have decided to hold "field hearings" around the country.
These hearings have been nothing more than an opportunity to showcase the respective positions of the two houses -- with the Senate favoring comprehensive reform that includes a guest worker program and a path to legalization for the 11.5 million illegal aliens living in the U.S., as well as tougher enforcement at the border; and the House supporting an "enforcement only" approach to make it more difficult for illegal aliens to get here or find jobs if they do. At the end of this charade, the two sides are no closer to passing a bill than they were before they wasted the taxpayers' money on this publicity stunt.
Meanwhile, the facts on the ground haven't changed. Our economy is percolating along nicely, thanks, in part, to the contribution of immigrants (legal and illegal), who make up almost 15 percent of our labor force, including 40 percent of new workers who have entered the labor market between 2002 and 2005.
If we follow the wishes of House Republicans, we will drastically cut back the supply of labor for the immediate future and we can expect a tightening labor market and higher prices for much of what we buy, which will lead to more inflation. But we'll reduce the number of people who come into the country illegally -- though we won't entirely eliminate illegal immigration. Some 40 percent of illegal aliens currently living here entered the country legally and overstayed the terms of their visas. Unless we shut our borders to tourists, students and other temporary visitors, or create some fool-proof method of tracking them while they are here, we won't completely eliminate illegal immigration even if we entirely seal our borders.
But, while the Senate approach will mean about 30 million immigrants admitted over the next 20 years, according to most reasonable estimates, illegal immigration will drop dramatically, just as it did in the 1950s after the U.S. adopted the Bracero Program, which allowed Mexicans to come as temporary agricultural workers. At the time the Bracero Program was adopted, about a half million illegal aliens were sneaking across the border each year. Once Mexican workers were given a legal way to come to the United States to work temporarily, illegal immigration dropped by 95 percent.
Congress could fix this, but has shown little interest in doing so. In the past, Congress has allocated extra federal aid to school districts with large military installations or other federal facilities that don't pay property taxes to support schools. A similar approach might work for communities with large immigrant populations -- that is if certain members of Congress weren't more interested in using immigration to inflame voters than to solve problems.
Meanwhile, those expecting real immigration reform anytime soon will be left, like Estragon and Vladimir, waiting for Godot.