Over the border

Posted: Jun 17, 2005 12:00 AM

There is a storm brewing on America's horizon -- just over the border, let's say.

 The futures of Social Security and Medicare are worrisome. So is the United States' increasing dependence on foreign oil. But all three of those issues are at least being addressed with policy proposals.

 The problem of which I speak may be the worst one of all, because everyone from the president of the United States right down to the man and woman on the street are in functional denial that it even exists.

 I'm talking about rampant, uncontrolled immigration. It's a problem that is coming to a head in this country. It will either be dealt with now with realistic assessments of its extent and levelheaded policies to solve it, or it will fundamentally change the nature of our society and political system.

 Even apologists for illegal immigration have to admit there is a ballooning problem. Of the 2.5 million new jobs added to the U.S. economy in 2004, almost one million of them were filled by foreign-born Hispanics, according to one extensive survey. Nearly three out of four of them work without permits.

 Legal immigration also will hobble our future. Many industries rely on highly educated foreign nationals to fill specialized jobs, the computer industry being the most celebrated of them.

 As with any problem left to fester, this one is metastasizing. Now many foreigners are getting advanced degrees in the United States and then taking their American-given knowledge back to their homelands.

 One result is that American citizens are starting to go overseas to enjoy the services provided by these professionals, particularly health-care providers.

 The United States doesn't have an open door policy; it has a revolving door policy. The unskilled flock in, and now, the highly skilled flock out.

 National security is a concern, of course. If illiterate peasants can come here without getting caught, it certainly stands to reason that terrorists hell-bent on our destruction can do the same.

 So why isn't something done? Because the political class in this country has its head in the sand.

 Dwight Eisenhower was the last U.S. president to launch a serious effort to round up and deport illegal aliens. But Eisenhower didn't have to concern himself with pluralities of foreign-born citizens threatening his political power if he opposed them.

 Current U.S. leaders in certain states and smaller voting regions do have that worry, and it saps their political will. The more foreign-born who live here, the more difficult it becomes to curb additional immigration. It's an accelerating spiral.

 There is currently a bipartisan bill before Congress that takes realistic aim at getting a grip on illegal immigration. Among other provisions, it would allow the issuance of three-year work visas to undocumented workers.

 Opposition to the bill illustrates the problem in seeking a political solution. Those on the right don't want to grant any sort of legal status to immigrants who have broken the law to get here. But this proud position is no longer realistic. Their presumed answer, massive deportation, would trigger equally massive social unrest and political polarization.

 Those on the left don't want to acknowledge that there is a problem at all. (Some for altruistic reasons, and some for political reasons -- they want more people voting Democratic.) They assign the label "racist" to anyone who so much as suggests a serious effort to limit immigration. This too is unrealistic.

 As is nearly always the case, the force needed to break this political logjam is an angry majority of citizens. That day is coming, but not because of folks having to read Spanish billboards or fly to India for affordable health care.

 It will come when the U.S. government, for security reasons, is forced to keep a tight administrative tab on every last one of us. Call it national ID cards or something else, it amounts to a guarantee of safety and security coming at the price of privacy. And when that seemingly inevitable day comes, Americans are not going to like it.

 Their initial response will be resentment toward immigrants. Their eventual reaction will be to toss out their elected representatives for new ones. And those new ones might be extremists ready to exploit anger for votes.

 Decision time is coming, one way or the other. President Bush and Congress need to make that time soon. If they don't, the eventual answer may be closed borders. Either that or -- in effect -- no borders at all.