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Bush Talks Tougher on Immigration, but It’s Still Amnesty

President Bush is finally talking tougher on immigration enforcement.  But there is little evidence he plans to do much more than repackage his “guestworker” plan and keep denying that it is an amnesty.

The president’s speech Monday in Arizona signaled that he is beginning to see that the American public firmly rejects the immigration snake oil the Bush administration has been pushing for five years.        Hence, looking like a Johnnie-come-lately, a rhetorical shift.

A letter in mid-October from 82 House members – most of them Republicans – urged the president to enforce current immigration laws.  That would be progress.  Lawmakers asked the White House to delay talk about importing more foreign workers until enforcement is well in place.

This week, the president bragged about things such as the 1,900 new Border Patrol officers hired since 2001 and other measures forced upon him by the Republican Congress.  He praised “expedited removal” as a tool that’s being expanded, though the administration has refused to apply this fast-track deportation measure beyond the border.

He lauded the wider availability of the Basic Pilot electronic employment verification system, which helps employers instantaneously check that new hires are legal workers, from six states to nationwide.  But Congress did that, not the administration.  And the president glaringly failed to insist that that system’s usage be made mandatory.

It is hard not to be skeptical of this White House when it starts saying it will enforce our immigration laws because it has utterly failed to do so to date.  Its de facto immigration policy has been the Clinton administration’s.

For example, the Border Patrol had a highly effective operation in Southern California where a handful of officers arrested hundreds of illegal aliens.  But the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection shut it down.  The initial CBP directive was eventually, “officially” withdrawn, but by then the message to line officers had been registered.

The Bush administration has continued the “catch and release” policy that sets OTMs – captured Other Than Mexican illegal aliens – free on American soil.  Brazilians, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and others have taken “catch and release” as a welcome mat.  OTM apprehensions surged from 49,545 in 2003 to 165,175 in 2005.

After September 11, the Justice Department put into place a highly effective alien registration program called NSEERS.  It coupled mandatory registration by temporary alien males from terrorist-sponsoring countries with on-the-spot detention of immigration violators, such as those who had overstayed their visas.  When Homeland Security took over, it essentially killed the program, even though NSEERS caught 13,000 illegal aliens and caused at least 15,000 more to leave the country on their own.

After Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security declared a holiday (though it has no legal authority to suspend laws) from employer sanctions laws – not only in the storm-tossed areas, but nationwide.  This opened the doors for unscrupulous employers to hire illegal aliens – thus displacing or hedging out hurting Americans whose jobs had been destroyed.

As the administration negotiates behind the scenes as Congress drafts immigration enforcement legislation, the Bush crowd continues to oppose the most promising ideas, such as the CLEAR Act to get state and local police a constructive response from federal authorities and mandatory employment verification to shut off the “jobs magnet.”

All the while, the administration has hawked a massive amnesty to legalize virtually all 10-12 million illegal aliens.  This scheme has been, and continues to be, packaged as a “guestworker” program.

Regardless of how the president labels it, the plan he described in his Arizona speech is his same old amnesty plan.  The illegals get legalized, they get to keep the jobs they came here to steal, and six years later no political will will exist to make them go home.  Politicians will end up giving them green cards and then citizenship.

Do we need the foreigners?  The fact is that there are no jobs Americans won’t do or don’t want.  For instance, Census figures show that in the most immigrant-filled jobs, in farming, fishing and forestry occupations, 61.2 percent of workers are Americans.  But Americans can’t afford to take jobs for immigrant-caused wage-depressed low pay and lacking decent benefits. 

We really don’t need more foreign workers.  We need consistent enforcement of the immigration laws on the books.  We need to let market forces regulate themselves without government command-and-control manipulating the labor supply. 

Only after several years of attrition of the illegal population – through deportations, illegals leaving on their own and closing entry at the border – once the inflow has diminished in the face of real enforcement, then we’ll have a clue what our actual labor needs might be for foreign workers. 

And actually, the economy can adjust to tightening labor markets, because business will have greater incentive to invest in labor-saving innovation, rather than pour all its capital into cheap foreign labor.

The president is finally tuning in on immigration enforcement, at least rhetorically.  The proof will be in how faithfully the administration starts to enforce the laws on the books, implements statutory requirements that continue to go unimplemented and shows that it truly gets it on the enforcement side of the equation.

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James Edwards is coauthor of "The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform."

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