THE BLOG
06/21/2006 03:30 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Let's Pretend for a Moment that the GOP Cares About Immigration Reform...

Immigration reform is dead for the time being because the Republicans in the House refuse to consider a bill that provides a path to citzenship for illegal immigrants (or even the President's back-of-the-bus "guest worker program"). Then again, my description of the House Republicans' stance on the issue is a little misleading, since it implies that they actually give a shit about the issue. If they cared at all, they would have done something about it over the past five years. They haven't, so now the issue is really just another pointless wedge issue that won't get addressed at all after the election :

Some officials added that Republicans have begun discussing a pre-election strategy for seizing the political high ground on an issue that so far has served to highlight divisions within the party. Among the possibilities, these officials said, are holding votes in the House or Senate this fall on additional measures to secure the borders, or on legislation that would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving
Social Security payments or other government benefits.

"The discussion is how to put the Democrats in a box without attacking the president," said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.

What's especially funny about this whole thing is that the Bush Administration has worsened the problem they claim to be so concerned about solving :

The Bush administration, which is vowing to crack down on U.S. companies that hire illegal workers, virtually abandoned such employer sanctions before it began pushing to overhaul U.S. immigration laws last year, government statistics show.

Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.

In 1999, the United States initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to three.
. . .
Statistics show that the numbers of fines and convictions dropped sharply after 1999, with fines all but phased out except for occasional small cases. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a 2003 memorandum issued by ICE required field offices to request approval before opening work-site cases not related to protecting "critical infrastructure," such as nuclear plants. Agents focused on removing unauthorized workers, not punishing employers.

ICE also faced a $500 million budget shortfall, and resources were shifted from traditional enforcement to investigations related to national security. Farms, restaurants and the nation's food supply chain "did not make the cut," Reed said. "We were pushed away from doing enforcement."

You should read the whole article because it describles some of the raids that were conducted in the 90's and the hypocritical response from members of the House and Senate, concluding :

Members of Congress at first hostile to immigrants embraced "all the same people who were so repugnant to them before," Reed said, "and they prevailed." Operation Vanguard -- which was designed to expand to four states in four months and nationwide the next year, eventually including the lodging, food and construction industries -- was killed.

Congress "came to recognize that these people . . . had become a very important part of their community, churches, schools, sports, barbecues, families -- and most importantly the economy," Reed said. "You've got to be careful what you ask for."

That's why any real solution to this issue needs to have three prongs :

  • Tightened border security. Not just the physical borders, but any path through which someone might enter this country (ahem, airports)

  • Tougher penalties against employers and better tools for law enforcement to track down identity thieves, trace fake Social Security numbers, etc.

  • Path to citizenship (not "automatic citzenship" or "amnesty") for immigrants who are already here. The President's guest worker program (which ships immigrants out of the country after three years) doesn't cut it.

  • Anyone who claims to care about immigration, but can't provide for all three of these needs, is either unserious about the issue or doesn't know what the hell they're talking about.

    (Cross-posted at The Talent Show and This Modern World)