Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Enforcement First"

That's the title of a National Review editorial today. A few grafs:
In December, the House of Representatives passed an immigration bill based on the principle of “enforcement first”: There should be no amnesty or guest-worker program until real immigration enforcement is in place. Over the past several weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee under Arlen Specter has been trying to reverse that principle by packaging legalization of illegal aliens (a.k.a. amnesty) and guest-worker programs together with promises of future enforcement.

A bit of background: Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Democrats’ standard bearer on immigration, joined with Sen. John McCain to promote a broad amnesty for the 12 million illegal aliens already here, plus a large increase in new immigration. Judiciary chairman Specter offered a slightly less sweeping amnesty, but packaged it with an unlimited guest-worker program and an increase in immigration of 1 million people per year.

The Senate’s approach to immigration so far might thus be described by Mary Poppins: A spoonful of enforcement helps the amnesty go down. This is the same bait-and-switch approach Congress took in 1986, when it passed a large amnesty in exchange for a ban on hiring future illegal aliens, as a way to turn off the magnet that attracted illegals in the first place. Naturally, once the amnesty ran its course, promises of enforcement were abandoned; in 2004, according to the Government Accountability Office, only three employers in the entire country were fined for the knowing employment of illegal aliens

Insistence on a front-loaded amnesty may keep anything the Senate passes from being approved by the House. Seventy-one congressmen, led by Rep. Tom Tancredo, recently sent a letter to Specter criticizing “thinly disguised attempts to provide amnesty,” adding that “if the Senate were to pass such a proposal, we believe it would doom any chance of a real reform bill reaching the President’s desk this year.”

There is evidence that, despite the sorry state of the debate in the Senate, the intellectual consensus is shifting. Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson — no conservative, certainly, but a clear thinker on economic issues — has written twice recently about the importance of tough immigration enforcement and “the myth that the U.S. economy ‘needs’ more poor immigrants.” He concludes that, “to make immigration succeed, we need to curb some immigration” — although he also calls for amnesty, on the grounds that many illegals are rooted here, and we were complicit in letting them settle in the first place.

Perhaps. Although we at National Review have never made a secret of our skepticism about amnesty, it’s a legitimate topic of debate. But that debate should begin only after we reassert control over immigration. Enforcement first. Rest here


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