Illegal Immigration: What is at stake & where do we go from here?

This morning’s publication of an Open Letter about immigration by leading conservatives prompted me to re-read a draft posting I had last edited on May 26. Here is that late-May posting:
Now that we have the Senate and House going into conference with the objective of negotiating a final bill out of two very different bills, it is worth taking a step back and asking ourselves: What are the big issues in this illegal immigration debate? In other words, what policies and values are at stake as those negotiations begin and where should we go from here?
Let me begin with an analogy:
Think back to when you were in elementary school. Remember the occasional kid who would not play by the rules? Now, in most cases, peer pressure corrected their aberrant behavior. But sometimes it did not. And, without the presence of teachers or school aides to adjudicate the situation, a bully could get away with uncivilized behavior and disrupt the peaceful actions of kids who were simply trying to play by the rules.
Now recall how you felt if you or your friends were taken advantage of: The bully was being unfair. Playing fair – by playing by the rules – is a key principle of American life. It is why we don’t like cheaters – in school, on the ball field, in business or in politics.
Whether we will play fair with illegal immigration concerns defines the core issue of this debate.
What the American people get – and many of the Washington politicians from both parties do not get – is that we understand this Senate bill is amnesty for lawbreakers. For corporate lawbreakers and for illegal alien lawbreakers. This bill rewards all of them for breaking the law by relieving them of any consequences for their past illegal actions. And it is no less troubling that the structural incentives of the bill will ensure future behaviors are equally reprehensible. All of this is unfair and wrong.
The Senate bill fails to codify a sense of fair play – aka the rule-of-law in legal terms – into public policies that enhance our ability to live together peacefully as a society. It is actually worse than that because it makes future societal conflict more likely.
These initial points also clarify what are NOT the big issues here. This is not about being racist or hating minorities, no matter how hard some amnesty advocates will push that shtick. All you have to do is read the postings on this blogsite, from well before the illegal immigration issue moved front-and-center, to know that many of us who are agitated about illegal immigration come from families that marched with and were outspokenly supportive of the noble cause led by Martin Luther King, Jr. And because this is a rule-of-law issue, it is also not a civil rights issue.
The American people see through all the moral preening by various parties and have cut to the heart of the matter. Under the status quo, they observe:

The government passes laws they have no intention of enforcing and grants benefits to people who have not earned them.
Businesses are willing to break the law in order to get cheap labor and increase their profits.
Unions are looking for easy marks to recruit for membership, thereby increasing their power.
Both political parties are willing to ignore serious and unresolved policy issues so they can maximize their chances of attracting more Hispanics to their respective parties.
Radicals – like many who organized the May 1 rallies – are promoting an anti-American vision of separatist identity politics completely disconnected from the Founding principles of our country.
Mexico is in political disarray, has an economy that does not generate enough jobs, and threatens to sue our country just for protecting our border.
Illegal immigrants (and many of their advocates) are effectively saying “I am here so deal it with it on my terms.”

Broadly speaking, there are national security, economic and cultural issues at stake here and none is being addressed with any rigor. The American people understand that a failure to deal effectively with any of the three issues diminishes the quality of our country’s life – and could even threaten its existence over time.
There are three specific policy issues at the center of this debate:

American sovereignty: Will we set our own laws about immigration as a country or will we let illegal aliens or foreign countries drive our laws?
Rule of law: Will we enforce fairly the laws on our books, thereby ensuring a consistent – and not corrupt – application of those laws?
Assimilation – Becoming an American citizen is an honor, not a right. We want all citizens to share that sense of honor. So, what does it mean to be an American citizen and how will immigrants be taught American history and the uniqueness of the American experiment in ordered liberty?

So where do we go from here? I would suggest several key points:

We need to transform immigration processes from dishonest to honest practices. The only way we will get to that point is if we first skewer the moral preeners and drive the debate to a focus on both the 3 broad issues (national security, economic, cultural) and the 3 specific policy issues (American sovereignty, rule-of-law, assimilation) mentioned above.
There is a consensus about the need for enforcement, both at the border and with employer compliance. We should begin there and do that right.
There is not a consensus on what to do next and the worst thing we can do is force another law onto the books that either makes no sense or will not be enforced. There is an analogy with the abortion issue. This country became polarized because the Supreme Court acted in a way that pre-empted a national debate from occurring, from allowing a broad consensus to develop. In its current form, this Senate bill is likely to lead to a similar outcome. The issues won’t go away; the passions will not diminish. But the debate will be stopped dead in its tracks and that will only polarize the country. There is much to discuss and we should conduct a reasoned debate at the national level about immigration issues – such as how to deal with the existing illegal aliens in our country, guest worker strategies, and so forth. If we did that, a national consensus would emerge. None of us would likely prefer every outcome but the odds are we could find a way to policies that are generally acceptable to most Americans.

My personal hope is that a more limited bill comes out of conference and we can then conduct a thoughtful public debate on how best to do the right thing and keep America strong. We owe nothing less to our children and to the future of America.

For more readings on the topic, there have been numerous recent postings on Anchor Rising about immigration. Several key ones include:
Identifying Four Core Issues Underlying the Immigration Debate
More Misguided Thinking From RIFuture & State Legislators on Illegal Immigration
Does The Rule Of Law & A Sense Of Fair Play Matter Anymore? The Debate About In-State Tuitions For Illegal Immigrants
Jennifer Roback Morse: Further Clarifying What is at Stake in the Illegal Immigration Debate
Other recent postings on Anchor Rising include:
Why is Congress Discriminating Against Educated Legal Immigrants?
More Links on Immigration Issue
Asleep at the Border
Senate Rejects Securing the Borders while Supporting Increased Presidential Power
Senator Reed Votes For Open Borders
Senator Grassley’s Top 10 Flaws in Immigration Bill
Senator Sessions’ Senate Floor Speech on Illegal Immigration Bill
The Senate Passes an Illegal Immigration Amnesty Bill, But Lacks The Courage To Call It What It Is
The Department of Homeland Insecurity and Consular ID Cards
More Thoughts on the Senate Immigration Bill
The Pence Immigration Compromise: Yes to Guest Workers, No to Amnesty
The Department of Homeland Insecurity and Consular ID Cards
In addition, another series of previous postings contain information about recent events in the public debate about illegal immigration and can be found in Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI.

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