Immigration Man

Let me in, immigration man
Can I cross the line and pray
I can stay another day

-Graham Nash

I have to say up front that I don’t have an answer to the immigration question(s). I’m not even sure what the questions are. Not that I haven’t read enough about it, but the issue seems to change the harder I look at it. There are facts, figures, opinions, and tales of woe coming from all points of the political compass on this one. And I began to wonder – where did it all come from? What made immigration suddenly become Topic Number One on the national political scene? There has been talk about immigration for years, but in the past six months it seems to have exploded.

I have a theory.

One of my favorite lines from a political movie comes from “The American President”. Yes, I know it’s more of a romantic movie than a political movie, but it does have a political undertone. But in the movie, the President, speaking about his opponent in the election, says “He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.“. I think that’s what has happened here. Somewhere deep in the Republican political advisor bunkers, someone had an idea. Make immigration the central issue in the 2006 elections. George Bush’s approval ratings, and those of Republicans generally, were plummeting like the proverbial stone tossed in a lake. US soldiers were still dying in a war that had yet to be justified by any explanation that wasn’t proven false or trumped up. The Federal government had bungled Katrina and Rita, gas prices were rising, and it was beginning to look like 2006 could possibly become a Republican nightmare. So they reached down into the bag of tricks and pulled out the bottle with the immigration genie inside, and decided to pop it open, thinking they could make people afraid of immigration and blame it on the Democrats, thereby insuring the continuance of Republican control of the government.

Then something unforeseen happened. The Republican Party had two great camps within it that saw immigration differently, and were, apparently, diametrically opposed. There were those that wanted to bring legal status to the millions of illegal immigrants already here, bring them out into the open so that they could continue to work and raise their families, contribute to society openly and perhaps get on some sort of track towards citizenship. And there were those who wanted to get rid of all illegal immigrants. The middle ground between now seems vacant and wide.

But why such a huge miscalculation? Why the inability to put the genie back into the bottle (other than the fact that genies, once out, tend to love that freedom and resist being re-bottled). I think it has happened because both sides tried to take a comples issue and reduce it to simplistic talking points. There are too many things we don’t know. What would be the effect on the economy if we suddenly removed a significant part of the lowest rung of wage earners? Which industries would be most affected, how, and for how long? Why do we have so many illegal immigrants, and why aren’t we catching them?

Why do we have so many illegal immigrants, and why aren’t we catching them? That last one bears repeating. I thought of an analogy, perhaps not a great one. Think about drivers on the highway. How many are exceeding the speed limit? Just based on my daily commute, I’d say somewhere between 35% and 50%. Why do we allow this? Mostly because we don’t want to invest in the vast numbers of police and highway patrolmen it would take to apprehend all the speeders, and we don’t want to pay for all the traffic courts that would have to be set up. Certainly there would be a benefit – safer roads, and less stressful commute – but of course, it would also mean that for many of us, that commute would take longer. We aren’t catching all the illegals because we don’t want to pay for the immense number of immigration officials it would take to find and detain all the illegal immigrants, and the immigration courts, and the vast detention centers required. Many businesses don’t want to lose part of their workforce. Nor would we really want to see the sort of armed border that would be necessary, harking back to the Soviet style of border control. If we become sufficiently concerned about illegal immigration, that could change. But for now, we’re treated to the spectacle of a political talking point that turned into a heated national debate, and a President desparately trying to reconcile two irreconcilable parts of his party. If he ever needed Karl Rove, he needs him now. Karl, unfortunately, may have other things on his mind.

More bloggers on this issue:
Kingdaddy has thoughts on militarizing the border.

Steven Taylor at Poliblog reacts to sending in the National Guard.

Joe Gandleman has a comprehensive write-up at The Moderate Voice, covering news items and bloggers from both sides of the spectrum and in between.

May 15, 2006 В· Harry В· Comments Closed
Posted in: Politics