Bush Plan for Illegals Out of Touch with Reality

By Mark Krikorian on January 17, 2004

Op-ed appeared in:
The Miami Herald (January 24, 2004)
The Duluth News Tribune (January 19, 2004)
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (January 17, 2004)

President Bush's plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and allow millions more to enter the country is a fundamental disconnect with reality and should be rejected out-of-hand.

Though the president says many details would be left to Congress to iron out, his outline fails even to address issues that should be basic to any immigration plan and clearly is not intended as a serious effort at all.

Rather it is a sentimental gesture, designed mainly for political benefit and based on cliches about "huddled masses" and "a nation of immigrants."

Among the fundamental issues ignored by his proposal:

* Administrative capacity: The White House does not appear to realize that the federal government simply doesn't have the ability to manage such a program. In the past, when immigration authorities lacked needed personnel and other resources, the result of such overload was massive fraud.

One consequence was the issuance of a green card to Mahmud Abouhalima in the 1986 illegal-alien amnesty; once he had legal status, he was able to travel to Afghanistan to get terrorist training, which he used to lead the first World Trade Center bombing.

This isn't a detail that can be worked out later - dealing with this must be at the center of any genuine effort to fix our immigration mess.

* No provision for enforcing the new rules: The reason we're in this mess is that immigration laws have not been enforced in the past, and any effort to fix things has to address how new rules are going to be enforced.

The president justified his proposal by implying that we have succeeded in gaining control over immigration since 9-11. This is clearly untrue. Though there have been some modest improvements in immigration control since then, most of the needed reforms haven't even been attempted.

Two examples: Nothing whatsoever has been done to develop the "Chimera" system, a vital tool that would provide real-time access to law enforcement, immigration and intelligence information on every alien who seeks admission to the United States. And only 13 - thirteen - companies were fined for hiring illegals in 2002.

* No limits on numbers or wages: The small guest worker programs in current law have various controls to try to ensure they don't do more harm than good. The new White House plan, on the other hand, would permit any employer in any industry to import any number of workers and pay them any wage above the legal minimum. This is so radical, and so potentially devastating to the middle class, that it is clear no one even thought through the implications.

* Birthright citizenship: Under the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment, all babies born in the United States are American citizens, including those born to illegal aliens. The president's proposal makes no mention of this, despite the fact that the guest workers enrolled in the program it envisions, both former illegals and new workers, would give birth to several hundred thousand babies each year. Again, this is not a minor detail, but a central point.

* Workers won't go home: It's been said "there's nothing as permanent as a temporary worker." Every guest worker program in human history has created large-scale permanent immigration, but the White House seems unaware of this fact.

The president's proposal includes some hackneyed gimmicks intended to encourage workers to return home, but they have all been tried unsuccessfully before, as anyone with a modicum of curiosity could have discovered.

Simply put, the president's advisers have not served him well by presenting him with such an amateurish proposal. Congress would be abdicating its responsibilities if it were to vote for it.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.