The enforcement flat-liners at the New York Times editorial board are at it again. On Saturday they again denounced critics of the Gang of Eight reform bill. This time, instead of labeling them "hardliners" as it so often does, the board classified their bad guys as "die-hard obstructionists" and "dead-enders".
But as someone who would like see the reform bill succeed on the Gang of Eight's own terms — combining provisional legal status and then a path to citizenship with border and worksite enforcement tough enough to prevent future waves of illegal immigration — I think the gravest threats to success lie not in amendments to be presented during the Senate debate, but in the right-left coalition that is always lying in wait to stifle immigration controls.
Exhibit A is a 2002 story in Washington Monthly by Nicholas Confessore. Ironically, Confessore is now writing for the New York Times. Too bad he hasn't been put on the immigration beat, where his hard-nosed instincts could provide some needed tough-mindedness to reporting that is often hamstrung by political correctness and ideological rigidity.
Confessore's 2002 story, headlined "Borderline Insanity", is in large part a profile of libertarian ideologue and open-borders advocate Stuart Anderson.
Anderson was an immigration specialist at the Cato Institute in the mid-1990s, before joining the Senate staff of former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.). In the administration of George W. Bush he was named to the powerful position of policy director at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, serving under fellow libertarian James Ziglar.
Confessore wrote that Anderson was part of a group of INS officials who "have been operating below the media radar to make sure that a broken immigration-security system stays broken."
Keep in mind that Confessore was writing just a year after the September 11 attacks laid bare the dangers of ineffectual immigration laws and visa-tracking systems.
Confessore followed his charge of pre-meditated INS fecklessness with this remarkable explanation:
Why would members of the Bush administration want to do such a thing, given the president's firm commitment to fight terrorism? Because of the president's other firm commitment to courting Hispanic voters. Key Bush officials know that an effective system of tracking immigrants is the last thing Hispanic and other immigration lobbyists want to see. Indeed, a fundamental tension operates within the Bush administration itself, and the GOP generally, between national-security conservatives, who want a strong INS capable of keeping terrorists out, and libertarian conservatives, who want a weak INS incapable of stopping the free flow of labor.
Today we see a similar dichotomy confronting the Gang of Eight legislation. We have those who truly want to stop illegal immigration while providing legal status to 11 million illegal immigrants. And we have those willing to play enforcement make-believe for as long as it takes to get the legalization that is their sole objective.
Confessore described Anderson as a key member of a "left-right coalition of business lobbies, immigration lawyers, liberal ethnic activists, and civil liberties organizations" who were committed to resist limits on immigration.
Confessore explains Anderson's key role in the effort to frustrate a program mandated by Congress in 1996 to develop a visa tracking system for foreign students. The need for such a system had become apparent with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which was carried out by, among others, a Palestinian who had entered the country on a student visa and later disappeared.
"As an ideological libertarian, Anderson despised the very idea of computerized documentation and visa-tracking," Confessore wrote. "In research papers and op-eds, he had decried such systems as tools of a police state."
Anderson's sympathies dovetailed with the work of a lobby that set out to kill student tracking. It was the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.
Confessore wrote that the group was not much concerned about national security. Instead, "they worried that a system that clamped down on fraudulent or dubious student visa applications could mean fewer foreign students, and hence perhaps fewer jobs for foreign-student advisers."
That observation will sound glib only to those who don't understand the mercenary amorality of K Street, which, for a price, is available to organize narrow interests for maximum political effect.
Confessore continues his story with a description of a multi-pronged strategy to kill the student visa tracking system.
Anderson "quarterbacked a counteroffensive", he wrote. The assault was waged with a barrage of complaints about "unnecessary obstacles" and "burdensome requirements", and dire warnings of inevitable "system breakdown".
Then came surgical strikes to dismember the system that had been developed, chopping it into "modules, each slated for gradual development." Confessore, clearly stunned by the brazenness of the attack, called that move "a totally unnecessary step, considering the thing worked."
All of this will sound familiar today to those who have followed the tortured course of the E-Verify system to confirm work authorization.
A decade ago, such libertarian guerrilla warfare made Anderson a hit with a certain type of Bush Republican, including Ziglar. Confessore said that by the time Anderson became policy director at the INS, he had "done more than perhaps anyone else to strangle student tracking in its crib."
Confessore quoted an INS agent who said that making Anderson policy director was the equivalent of putting an advocate of drug legalization in charge of the DEA. "You've essentially done the same thing —you've got somebody who favors open borders running the agency that regulates the borders," he said.
Confessore's remarkable reporting provides an important lesson for today's debate featuring the Gang of Eight. Regardless of what happens with their effort at immigration reform, Stuart Anderson — now fighting immigration and visa controls as a one-man show at the National Foundation for American Policy — will be lining up with his friends on the right and the left to keep the borders open and immigration flowing.