Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why Do We Need Immigration Reform?

Some friends of mine and I were discussing the new law in Arizona and trying to decide if it is a good thing or if it may, in practice, actually make matters worse. That led us through various associated topics including legal and illegal immigration, smuggling, terrorism, drugs, border security, deportation, cheap labor, taxes, and business influence. It very quickly became apparent that the immigration question as a whole is an extremely complex maze of very hard questions. In our short discussion we were able to look at both sides of several aspects of the debate and discovered that there are not 2 sides, there are multiple sides with multiple motivations and perspectives. Many of these had some very good and important points of consideration. One thing we were able to agree on completely was that immigration is a good and important element of the entire American experience. Immigration needs to be controlled but in a way that recognizes it’s importance and encourages rather than discourages legal immigration.

In the end, I asked what seemed to me to be a very simple question: Why do we need comprehensive immigration reform right now? Just what is so wrong with enforcing our existing laws? The laws we currently have on the books are good laws. They are constitutional and comprehensive. The very first argument I heard was that they are ineffective. My answer is: Really? How do we know? We don’t enforce them and we never have.

Congress is good at writing laws and creating great sound bites but our political system is very bad about enforcing what is perceived as politically sensitive laws. Each Administration has taken its turn at trying to do something about the growing immigration debacle. The problem has been that the issue has so many sides and considerations that no matter what you do you are going to alienate (no pun intended) a good chunk of voters.

President Bush tried and even managed to get some bipartisan support but in the end his efforts failed. In that case Congress got their cake and ate it to. They passed a resolution to build a fence across the entire border with Mexico, which pleased people on one side of the issue, and then simply refused to fund it, which pleased the people on the other side. Washington politics at it’s finest.

No matter what approach we eventually take one thing is obvious. Nothing is going to be effective until the border itself is secured. Rounding up undocumented immigrants and sending them home is an insane waste of time, effort and money if they are able to just come right back in across an unsecured border. Giving any kind of amnesty or special consideration to those here without securing the border would be like putting up big welcome signs to everyone else that does not want to go through the bureaucratic nightmare of immigrating legally. The first objective then becomes finding an effective and realistic way of securing the border without draconian measures that increase the likelihood of abuse.

If we need to find an example of a successful border security program we need look no further than Israel. They have had far more serious problems with people crossing their borders than we have --and in Israel the people crossing illegally are often doing it to blow things up. They spent years trying to figure out a way to effectively secure their border and they have found it: a fence.

They have a good old fashioned fence. It is a big tall fence and it is double wide with sand in between. They rake the sand everyday so that sand shows the tracks of anyone trying to enter. Sure they also patrol heavily and they have a lot of high tech equipment such as motion detectors and cameras but those are used to augment the patrols and enhance the effectiveness of the fence.

Why don’t we have one? It is neither expensive nor complicated. Yes, there are about 1700 miles of border to fence but that shouldn't be a problem for American ingenuity. Abut a third of it has fencing already but a third of a fence is useless. That is like putting a fence across one side of your property and leaving the rest open, everyone will just walk around it. Most of the fence we have is single layered, not double, so that should be fixed anyway.

There are three basic reasons why we haven't built it yet. The first reason is that we tried. We tried to build a "virtual" fence full of fancy height tech equipment. That effort simply failed. It sounded good in news releases and on paper but creating it was a nightmare. It went over budget instantly (no surprises there) and then they found that installing, maintaining and monitoring 1700 miles of highly sensitive equipment in dessert terrain required more maintenance and highly skilled manpower than they ever realized and our Border Patrol was just not equipped, manned, trained or funded for it.

The second reason is that it might offend the sensibilities of some people. That argument is nothing more than another good sound bite and delaying tactic. People are not offended by fences. Most of us have them around our homes and businesses –does anyone even notice them? No. They are simply something we see and understand they are needed.

The last reason is more insidious. Some people know the fence will be effective and they do not want the borders controlled. They want the borders left porous. There are several groups that seem to want this: people who profit from exploiting the “open border”; people who want bring more undocumented immigrants in by avoiding the legal system; and people that see political profit from catering to the first 2 groups. The very existence of these 3 groups just makes building a fence even more important.

Congress keeps talking about “comprehensive immigration reform” but we don’t need to fix the system we have. We just need to build a fence and use the system we have by judicial enforcement of our existing laws, nothing more and nothing less.

Today's Funny Picture

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