Immigration: The ABCs

William F. Buckley
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Posted: May 16, 2006 7:05 PM
Here is an attempt to sort out interests in the immigration morass:

(l) President Bush aspires to make headway on matters that appeal to his conservative constituency. Beginning on the cultural front, he wants Mexicans who cross the border intending to live here to seek integration by learning to speak English.

The prospects of success here are poor for first-generation immigrants. Not only will they arrive speaking only Spanish, they will gravitate to centers where others who speak only Spanish are concentrated. The second generation will evolve toward speaking English but only if educated in single-language schools. Only the third generation will be fluent in English. All of which means that not much political satisfaction can be got in the short term by stressing this goal.

(2) An effort to fortify the border between the United States and Mexico is required, but its importance will be symbolic. The president's proposal to assign 6,000 National Guard troops to the scene is done specifically on the understanding that their assignment will be administrative in nature. These National Guard units would provide technical information of help to the border guards. In so limiting their duties, the government would guard against violating the traditional missions of armed agents. Those in armies fight wars. Those in constabularies apprehend lawbreakers.

Here too, the prospect of significant success is slight. The border is too long, and the osmotic processes by which it is penetrated are too varied to oversee except by the kind of Bolshevik exercises used by East Germany before 1989. These aren't enterprises the United States would engage in. The running talk of deportation is genially self-betraying. Getting a Mexican illegal back across the border means only that he has to do it again, presumably with the increased sophistication he has got from the failed effort the first time around. An illegal caught in Texas is not prosecuted in Texas, and when he is released in Nuevo Laredo, he is not prosecuted there. The deterrent factor against renewed efforts to come in is pretty well vitiated.

(3) American employers who are looking for cheap labor are similarly immune, de facto, from prosecution. There is legislation in the air, backed by conservatives who are hard on the illegal immigration question. Such legislation would fine lawbreaking U.S. employers, but there is such equivocation in the matter it's unlikely that breaking the law against hiring illegals would become a crime routinely prosecuted on a par, say, with failing to pay your taxes.

(4) On the matter of how to deal with those illegals who are already here, it is wise to begin by acknowledging the macrocosmic scale of the problem. We are talking about what to do with 11 million people, living and working in 50 states of the union. It is not easy to devise a plan to send them each a postcard, let alone a legal summons. It is of course predictable that the usual agencies of compassion and anarchy would do their best, and their best is very good, to make a case for shielding a particular illegal from duress, for this reason and that one.

President Bush wisely suggests that identification of some distinctive kind should be attempted. It is by no means certain that this could be comprehensively done in the remaining years in which he serves as president -- after which the enterprise would probably lose what little steam it had had on Day One, which isn't immediately or even predictably ahead of us.

(5) The political question is, to say the least, complicated. You have the White House, the Senate and the House all dominated by GOP politicians. They are united on a single point, which is that "something" should be done about illegal immigrants. Not amnesty. And -- to repeat -- not nothing. Something. It must be something approved of by the House, and by the Senate, and by the president. And of course it must pass contingent muster by the Supreme Court.

The president's attempt to formulate a program was assessed by his campaign media consultant, Mark McKinnon. McKinnon said: "He's putting capital behind it. It would be a lot easier just to let it go away."

Our sin was to have let it happen, and that delinquency traces back to presidents and members of Congress over the past 30 years. How to expiate that, outside the confessional?