Stuff I think you should know

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bush finally takes notice

President Bush should know he’s not doing us any favors by offering to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. It’s already his job. Yet that’s the deal in his new guest-worker proposal: Keep the cheap labor flowing to business, and maybe I’ll start going after employers who hire illegal aliens. This mindset is making Americans crazy, and Democrats have taken notice. The public sees illegal immigration as its No. 1 international worry, according to a recent survey. Long afraid of the issue, Democrats are beginning to tackle it in a serious and politically potent way.

Two Democratic governors, Arizona’s Janet Napolitano and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, have declared states of emergency along their borders with Mexico. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is calling not only for better border controls, but also for enforcing laws that punish people who employ illegal immigrants. That last item is key. Bush’s immigration game has been to divert public attention with a big military-style show at the border.

But once illegal entrants get past the border, and millions do, they are free to undercut the wages and benefits of natives and legal immigrants. Bush has failed to do what would really halt illegal immigration — apply the employer penalties long on the books. The neat thing for Bush is that he gets to please business interests. Meanwhile, the costs of providing social services for the illegal population fall on state and local government budgets, not his. Until the cheap-labor crowd took over the party, Republicans were the stalwarts in defending the borders. Democrats shied away from this issue and its sometimes-racist overtones. They also saw immigrant families as their future constituents.

But the consequences of uncontrolled illegal immigration have so flooded other issues; it can no longer be ignored. Some conservative Republicans are yelling at Bush to address the rising public anger. They see trouble ahead for the 2006 congressional elections. Their best hope is that most Democrats remain frozen in old thinking. So when Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean opines that using this issue in 2006 would turn immigrants into “scapegoats,” Republican strategists must sigh with relief.

The good doctor from Park Avenue should take an educational trip to some carpentry shops on Long Island. There, he’ll find legal immigrants being put out of business by illegal aliens working at competing shops down the street. The story repeats itself across the nation. The conflict isn’t just between immigrants and natives. It’s between illegal immigrants and legal immigrants. The class-war aspects of uncontrolled immigration have begun to register with other Democrats. Consider the weird argument that illegal immigration is good because it keeps down the cost of lettuce, hotel rooms and restaurant meals. Of course, it does.

It’s odd that everyone expects to pay the going American rate for the services of lawyers and doctors. In this view, only the sweating classes are supposed to keep prices low. Congress does enforce immigration laws for some better-off workers. For example, the H-1B visa program brings in foreigners with specialized and technical skills. The annual limit of 65,000 H-1B visas was quickly reached this year, but Congress refused to raise it.

By contrast, the people who mop floors or paint houses compete in a labor free-for-all, and Congress just sits back. The border patrol is picking up increasing numbers of non-Mexicans, many from the Middle-east countries we worry about. Polls show that homeland security remains a weak spot for Democrats, so a plan to stop the chaos at the border could help them. But sympathy for individuals should not trump national defense and protecting the economic security of working Americans.


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