Immigration is the issue that will dominate the November elections.
On one side of this contentious issue are those who believe as I do that the Obama administration has exactly the same goal as its predecessor, the Bush administration, which is to provide amnesty and a "path to citizenship" for our illegal alien population, now estimated at between 11 million and 20 million. Supporters of amnesty often say the alternative is to put millions of aliens into boxcars and send them back to Mexico and other Latin American countries, where most of them are from, creating the Nazi-like and totally unacceptable image of Jews on their way to the crematoria. It is a false argument. No one I know who opposes amnesty supports such an approach.
What I and many others urge is a crackdown on American employers who knowingly hire illegals. They usually do so in order to have a docile workforce that is afraid of being deported and is therefore fearful of complaining about workplace conditions and illegal, below-minimum-wage salaries. If such employers were prosecuted and upon conviction received prison sentences, even as low as six months to one year, I believe the message would hugely deter future such breaches in the law. White collar criminals -- predator employers -- don't fear civil penalties and fines -- the cost of doing business -- as much as they fear serving time behind bars. Were the jobs to disappear, I believe that illegal aliens, many here to work and send much of their paychecks back to their families in Mexico and elsewhere, would go home.
We can also attract illegal aliens to join a going home program by offering to pay their airfare and even offering them a reward of $1,000 or more, payable one year later on proof they had remained in their own country for at least a year after their return. However, if amnesty is provided, we will simply be continuing a failed policy. In 1986 we said there would be no more amnesties after the Simpson-Mazzoli act legalized the status of illegal aliens who were in the country at that time.
We should be compassionate in dealing with individual cases and special categories. The New York Times of August 1st reports,
The Obama administration, responding to requests from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, has taken steps to make it easier for illegal immigrants who are spouses and family members of Americans serving in the military to gain legal status.
I would go further and not limit the program to the military, but apply it to all immediate family members -- brothers, sisters and parents -- of American citizens living in this country as illegal aliens.
There are those who believe the policy of the Obama administration for what they euphemistically call a "comprehensive reform of the immigration laws," which means amnesty for basically all, but not criminals, is predicated on the belief that the amnesty recipients -- overwhelmingly Hispanics -- will vote Democratic in appreciation. That is not a legitimate reason to in effect create a policy of open borders for this country. If open borders became the policy of the United States because the federal government decided it could not actually control our borders, they being so vast -- and President Obama did convey that thought -- we would have a dramatic illustration of what former Senator Patrick Moynihan meant when he coined the phrase "defining deviancy down": if you can't control illegality, legalize it.
The Obama administration should reach out to those who disagree with his amnesty approach and seek to find a compassionate, rational approach to an admittedly vexing problem. The current approach of the Obama administration, which is to bar the efforts of the state of Arizona to control its borders from infiltration by illegals, is deplored by most Americans. A poll taken by CNN on July 27th shows that 55 percent nationally favor the Arizona law recently gutted by a federal district court judge, with 40 percent opposing the law. In Arizona itself, a Rasmussen poll of April 21st shows that 70 percent favor the Arizona law and 23 percent oppose it.
The decision of the federal judge gutting the law is now being appealed. Unless overturned, it applies only to those states in the jurisdiction of the 9th Federal Circuit. It does not mandate the actions of most of the states, those in other circuit court jurisdictions seeking to emulate the Arizona law. Sooner or later, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the issue of whether states like Arizona, which are spending billions on health care for illegals, as well as for education of their children - Arizona has an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants - can take police measures to control its border with Mexico, or must rely on inadequate federal efforts. One such inadequate effort is the President sending 1,200 National Guardsman to the southern borders of our southwestern states, who have no authority to arrest illegals crossing, but can only call on the U.S. Border Patrol to do so when sighting an illegal. That is not exactly a real effort by the Obama administration.
The perpetual question, "Why are we in Afghanistan now?" was answered by Vice President Joe Biden. On August 1, The Times reported that Vice President Biden said Thursday on NBC:
We are in Afghanistan for one express purpose: al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda exists in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are not there to nation-build. We're not out there deciding we're going to turn this into a Jeffersonian democracy and build that country.
According to Leon Panetta, director of the C.I.A., in an interview on ABC's This Week, on June 27, "the number of al-Qaeda [in Afghanistan] is actually relatively small. At most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less."
In Pakistan, the estimate of al-Qaeda's numbers is about 300 operatives. The New York Times of July 1st reported,
Michael E. Leiter, one of the country's top counterterrorism officials, said Wednesday that American intelligence officials now estimated that there were somewhat "more than 300" al-Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas, a rare public assessment of the strength of the terrorist group that is the central target of President Obama's war strategy.
We will have 100,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan by the end of this summer. We are suffering enormous casualties which rise each month. In the month of July, we suffered a record 66 deaths and 78 injuries. The most recent U.S. appropriation bill signed by President Obama on July 29th included $37 billion for the ongoing wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The expenditure of blood and treasure, if Joe Biden is correct, is way out of proportion.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is denounced by almost everyone as presiding over a corrupt government, and not respected by huge numbers of Afghans, recently said that he expects the American army to remain in and protect his country's borders until 2014 when the Afghan army will finally be able to do the job. That means a 13-year war at a minimum. If you can't train an Afghan army in 9 years, who believes another 4 will do the job?
The problem is that Afghanistan is in a civil war and the Taliban opponents of the government apparently have the support of the people to a greater extent than does the government. Somewhat analogous to what occurred in Vietnam. The government of South Vietnam lacked support by its people. The government of North Vietnam, regrettably, had the support of its people. The religious practices - Sharia - that offends Westerners is apparently accepted by a majority of the Afghan people. Why don't we leave and let the Afghan people decide the outcome of that civil war among themselves? If Vice President Biden is speaking for the Obama administration, there is hope that reason will prevail. I fear he is not.
Al-Qaeda is in 62 countries. Probably in the U.S. itself, there are more than 50 putative operatives, some of whom may have entered the U.S. illegally across our southern border. We are in for a war that could last 30 years or more. It should not be a land war with our soldiers locked in battle in a place when the population hates us. Instead, let us use drones, aircraft and special forces from offshore.
Follow Ed Koch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mayoredkoch