President Obama was speaking in Texas the other day about immigration reform. His proposals are dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House and tepid Senate, but he was at it anyway: “Maybe they’ll need a moat,” he said of the Republicans. “Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.”
He’s probably right. But that isn’t the real problem.
One of the basic attributes of a nation is that it has the right to decide whether to allow people and things in and out. We’ve failed at that for quite some time, and while there has been progress in building a fence (which, in itself, is not a bad idea), there are still wide open spaces that the Border Patrol cannot practically supervise, as well as criminal elements with a vested interest in moving across the border on their own terms.
But let’s imagine, for a wild moment, that today we installed a hermetically sealed border: nothing could get in or out unless the designated authorities allowed it. Drug smugglers and terrorists are kept out; business travelers can pass through freely; other people can get in if they have the resources and patience. Fine and dandy.
OK: what do we do about the roughly 12 million that are already here illegally? Right now, the government doesn’t generally go looking around for illegal aliens. If they cross paths with one, he might get deported, but maybe not. But that satisfies nobody.
One approach is that favored by Obama, and Democrats in general: provide a path to legal residence, and ultimately citizenship, for those who are worthy of it (as demonstrated by living here peacefully, paying one’s taxes, otherwise not breaking the law, etc.).
It’s a practical solution. It was so practical that it was actually done in the 1980s, under Ronald Reagan. But we were supposed to couple that with reinforcing the border and making it harder for illegal immigrants to get jobs, and we didn’t really do that part. So here we are again.
Some on the right have suggested mass deportations as a solution. But that is a nonstarter for many practical reasons, most obviously because we would have to overtly turn our country into a police state in order to make sure we got everyone. And as soon as an American citizen got deported inadvertently, all of the politicians who were responsible for the plan would be on their way out, routed by a groundswell of popular anger.
So the Republicans simply say ‘no amnesty,’ and nothing changes. (Never mind, by the way, that providing a path to residence through paying a fine and filling out piles of paperwork does not constitute ‘amnesty.’) And we have an underclass of scared people who are willing to work for very little, which drives down wages for the rest of us. Is that what America stands for?
Perhaps not, but eerily, it’s what the Republicans stand for. The modern Republican stands for lower taxes, less regulation, and less of everything that can get between a businessman and his profits. If government policy can be used to lower wages, then that’s good, too.
But if what you really want (although won’t admit) is to keep a scared underclass on hand to lower wages, then a secure border isn’t really very helpful. As for the criminals who might sneak across, the answer is simple: live somewhere else.
So while the Republicans profess to be defenders of the realm, they’re really defenders of the status quo, because that’s what best serves their real interests.
And if that weren’t enough, there’s also the other reason for ‘no amnesty’ that is more acceptable in polite company: if the currently illegal immigrants ultimately became citizens, they’d probably be Democrats.