An Amnesty By Any Other Name: Meese Talks Immigration

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 24, 2006 8:37 AM

Scroll down for Meese conference call on immigration. "There are a lot of loopholes and I think a lot of timebombs in this bill."

General Ed Meese has an op-ed in the NYT today, in which he experiences some deja vu. It's 1986 all over again, he says:

Note that this path to citizenship was not automatic. Indeed, the legislation stipulated several conditions: immigrants had to pay application fees, learn to speak English, understand American civics, pass a medical exam and register for military selective service. Those with convictions for a felony or three misdemeanors were ineligible. Sound familiar? These are pretty much the same provisions included in the new Senate proposal and cited by its supporters as proof that they have eschewed amnesty in favor of earned citizenship.

The difference is that President Reagan called this what it was: amnesty.

He goes on to point out that the 1986 plan did not solve the illegal immigration problem, and lays out an alternative plan, much like the plan laid out by Rep. Mike Pence at The Heritage Foundation yesterday.

The fair and sound policy is to give those who are here illegally the opportunity to correct their status by returning to their country of origin and getting in line with everyone else. This, along with serious enforcement and control of the illegal inflow at the border — a combination of incentives and disincentives — will significantly reduce over time our population of illegal immigrants.

I just got off a blogger conference call with Meese and The Heritage Foundation's Matt Spalding. Lots of bloggers had lots of questions, and I typed what I could. Here are some good parts:

Meese: "As a matter of fact, it was almost identical...In many ways, the two provisions are exactly the same."

"Amnesty was expressly part of the '86 bill."

"Illegal immigration did go down for a short time after the bill was passed, but as the years went by...then you had a period of time during which immigration shot up."

"If we pass the current bill, it’s not at all unlikely that we'll again have a large crop of illegal aliens in the country."

Spalding:"Most of the providions, indeed the language, is exactlt the same...adding conditions is still amnesty...What makes it amnesty is the automatic legalization."

Scott Johnson asked what Meese thought about the Bush administration dancing around the amnesty term and acting as if the two plans are different.

Meese said the administration has had plenty of clues to the similarities, pointing to his own op-ed and Thomas Sowell's "Bordering on Fraud."

Meese: "It's hard to understand why there isn't a greater recognition of the similarity between the two...among proponents of the bill."

More updates coming as I clean up my notes...

Ed Morissey asked if the three-tiered Senate plan would create more bureaucracy in immigration services, and how would the plan he envisions deal with that?

Meese: " We'd explore the idea of even private sector actively working on part of this (in Meese's alternative plan)."

"The idea of having these three categories is gonna produce one of the same things we had in 1986, which is significant document fraud."

Spalding: "Document fraud in '86 could have been up to 70 percent...It's a serious question whether this legislation is even sustainable.... Several studies over the years have been done showing large amounts of fraud...that's not disputed."

Michelle Malkin asked if, for the purposes of determining whether people are eligible for the path to citizenship, criminal background checks are done in the U.S. only or also in their home countries.

Meese said they're only done in the U.S. largely because other countries don't have the records we have, and Michelle responded that that seems like a serious security problem in the proposed plans.

John Hawkins: Aggressively enforcing the laws on the books would have helped the situation we're in tremendously, yet they're not being enforced. How do we know they'll be enforced this time?

Meese: "I think that's always a problem as we found following 1986. In the '90s, there was very little concern for upholding the law."

Can we pause for a moment and admire the greatness of that quote from Meese on the '90s before I move on to say that he added that better technology and increased border control forces will help enforce the laws in a way we couldn't post-1986 amnesty.

I asked about how Meese envisioned the private sector getting involved in a plan like his given that immigration services seems pretty incapable of handling such things.

He pointed me to this Heritage Lecture from Helen Krieble:

We believe you should let private employment agencies licensed by the government open offices in Mexico and other countries. We believe that you should empower them to issue guest worker per­mits with no government-imposed limits.

If there is a job and there is a worker who wish­es to have that job, put them together with the profit motive that employment agencies have, which makes them be efficient and do the job well. Nobody comes in with a guest work permit if there isn’t a job, so they’re not standing on street corners hoping you’re going to pick them up to employ them.

There are many more details in the paper.

Michelle expressed concern that the only companies who get those kind of gigs are ones that have a vested interest in open borders. People who favor enforcement haven't been practicing processing illegals for years like the open-borders crowd has, so that puts them at a distinct disadvantge, she said.

Meese: "You'd have to have outfits that have demonstrated their ability to do this...But we have private sector organizations do a lot of things...That's something that certainly could be done on a pilot program...We have employment agencies all over the country, which are in this kind of work who could easily do this, it seems to me."

Kim Priestap asked, under the Meese/Pence-like proposal, how we make sure people are going home before they come back into the country? What are the incentives for self-deportment?

Meese: "The risk will be greater (than it is under current law)...the goal of any program has to be increased activity within the interior of the United States...against employers."

He mentioned charities that help illegals now could change their focus:

"They could put their energies into helping people who want to leave and come back...It's up to the people themselves to deport themselves and then come back."

John Henke asked if it wouldn't be prudent to put in a guest-worker program to facilitate the immigration of peaceful migrants before dealing with border security and dangerous immigrants.

Meese agreed that the goal of any plan should be to make our legal immigration process quicker and more able to meet needs of immigrants and employers. He also stressed that immigrants don't come into the country bearing hats that indicate whether they're dangerous or not, so increased enforcement has to be part of the plan.

Finally, Meese and Spalding commented on some of the problematic things in the bill right now:

Spalding: "The bill itself has all kind of things in it...and it has things that...prohibit police officers making arrests on the basis of aliens being illegal."

Meese: "There are a lot of dangerous things in it...
I think the only thing tha might help it...is a very lengthy conference process...There are a lot of loopholes and I think a lot of timebombs in this bill."

More reading recommendations from the call, from Heritage, in case you're interested:

Permanent Principles, Temporary Workers

Immigration Reform or Central Planning? (this is by Tim Kane. He does great work.)

And, from John Henke, this recommendation:

The Real Problem With Immigration...and the Real Solution