Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Nobody wants immigration reform

Jerry Stratton, August 27, 2006

Prohibido

On August 2, 2006, the Senate voted overwhelmingly—94 to 3—to fund a wall across the Mexican-American border. Funding had failed on July 14; in those two weeks sixty-six senators switched their vote from no to yes.

This was the culmination of what started as compassionate reform to our immigration system and to our treatment of illegal aliens. Instead, the argument is over building a wall. Why? It is convenient to blame the September 11 attacks for the shift in public opinion, but that doesn’t appear to be what happened. The attacks slowed but did not stop compassionate reform.

Immigration supporters seem to have become caught up in the hatred of individual politicians. They’ve jeopardized what seem to be their goals—paths to citizenship, benefits for illegal aliens—by opposing politicians who support those goals.

Democrats voted for the fence because they stood to gain by doing so. Republicans voted for it because they stood to lose by not doing so. In the charged partisan climate among “pro-immigration supporters” today, it made no sense for either party to do otherwise. When Republicans tried to push their colleagues to support immigration reform, pro-immigration supporters, at least as displayed in the mass media, pretended not to hear them.

Our Republican President wanted immigration reform—he wanted most of the things that the reformers want. He almost got one bill in his first term; it would have passed if it hadn’t been for the September 11 attacks. It still would likely have passed in 2002 if Republicans had controlled the Senate. Since 2004 he has been working on getting another more comprehensive bill through congress. There was a temporary setback in the House, but it was likely to be ironed out in committee.

But then came the protests, complete with hate-filled signs about the current administration. Pro-immigration voters who hold up “wanted” posters for the President and “Deport Bush” signs aren’t likely to vote for Republicans even if Democrats start opposing immigration. But the voters who started complaining after seeing those signs made it clear: they’d be willing to vote for anybody who built a wall.

I wrote about this in Nobody for President: if you aren’t willing to support people in the “other” party who support your issue; but people who oppose your issue are, you’re going to lose. If Democrats feel they have nothing to lose by stiffing pro-immigration voters, and feel they stand to gain by courting anti-immigration voters, then some of them will start supporting big walls and tougher enforcement.

This isn’t a matter of liking anybody. It’s simply a matter of recognizing that issues can transcend parties. If pro-immigration supporters rally by carrying signs that insult pro-immigration politicians, their demonstrations will be ineffective. Or, as in this case, they’ll end up with the opposite of what they wanted.

That’s why Democrats have started to jump on the anti-immigration bandwagon. Their constituents have chosen to be against an individual (the president) rather than for an issue (compassionate reform). That lopsided vote in favor of the fence included 28 Democrats. The even more lopsided vote in favor of funding the fence included all but one Senate Democrat. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel also voted against funding (though he had voted in favor of the original amendment).

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi blasted the President for not giving more money to the Border Patrol, for not securing the borders, and for not enforcing immigration laws:

“The record is clear: for more than five years, the president has failed to secure our borders and to enforce our immigration laws,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who added that Republicans in Congress have let Mr. Bush get away with underfunding the Border Patrol and have delayed “real immigration reform” by fighting among themselves over whether to do enforcement first or pass a broad bill.

Other Democrats are trying to peel hard-line immigration conservatives away from the GOP by calling for prosecuting people who hire illegal immigrants, blocking more illegal immigrants at the border, and rooting out illegal immigrants who make it past the border into the United States.

Immigration Reform since 2000

Just a few months after he took office, President Bush went to Ellis Island and announced that immigration reform was a major priority of his administration:

Immigration is not a problem to be solved. It is a sign of a confident and successful nation. And people who seek to make America their home should be met in that spirit by representatives of our government. New arrivals should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment, but with openness and courtesy.

As many immigrants can testify, that standard has not always been observed. For those seeking entry, the process is often a prolonged ordeal full of complexities and burdens. I’m committed to changing this with INS reforms that treat every immigrant with respect and fairness.

Conventional wisdom is that President Bush’s call for pro-immigration immigration reform ran into opposition from his own party and from Democrats who didn’t want a Republican president to get credit for reform. But that opposition is difficult to see in the July 2001 Ziglar hearings to approve President Bush’s nominee to implement his reforms at INS. At that hearing, James Ziglar advised “overhauling” the INS, and affirmed the goals that President Bush had outlined at Ellis Island.

Bush Step Down

There’s a special irony that, to the lower left of “Bush Step Down” is a sign that basically repeats what the president has been saying. Moises Saman, NYC, April 10 2006.

If I am confirmed for this position, my primary goal will be to insure that every person who comes into contact with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, regardless of their citizenship, the circumstances of their birth or any other distinguishing characteristic, and regardless of the circumstances under which they find themselves within the ambit of the INS, will be treated with respect and dignity, and without any hint of bias or discrimination.

I will encourage the employment of common sense, compassion and good judgment in the decision-making process at every level, particularly those areas where the INS has wide discretion. I believe that the vast majority of INS employees today are exercising that good judgment. But there are instances where common sense has not prevailed or discretion has been abused. We will not tolerate such actions or conduct.… I am convinced that an overhaul is needed.

Senators on both sides of the aisle praised Ziglar. He was confirmed by unanimous consent.

Section 245 Catch-22

One of the issues noted by Republicans and La Raza at the Ziglar hearing was that of illegal aliens within the United States who have demonstrated through years of labor that their presence is valued. The problem was that while these illegal aliens were eligible to begin the process of becoming citizens, they needed to return to their own country to begin the process. But an illegal alien who left the country was not allowed to return for up to ten years. It was a catch 22 that “trapped” otherwise eligible immigrants into illegal status.

On May 16, 2001, Pennsylvania Republican George Gekas introduced House bill H.R. 1885. It waived the return requirement for any illegal alien with either an employment or familial tie on or before April 30, 2001. Co-sponsored by California Republican Christopher Cox, New York Republican Peter T. King, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Wisconsin Republican James F. Sensenbrenner, the bill passed the House overwhelmingly on May 21. A hundred and fifty-two Republicans (69% of House Republicans) and a hundred and eighty-four Democrats (88% of House Democrats) voted for the bill.

It was then introduced in the Senate by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel and garnered 30 cosponsors: 22 Democrats and 8 Republicans, as far apart from each other as Jesse Helms and Hillary Clinton. The Senate amended it to apply to anyone with such ties on or before April 30 2002. The Senate voted on it on September 6. Now called S. 778, it passed by unanimous consent.

President Bush commended them on the effort and encouraged further quick action to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions.

On September 7, coinciding with a visit from Mexican President Vicente Fox, the Senate held a Judiciary Committee hearing on Mexican immigration and reform. During this hearing, La Raza set out principles for the debate, basically a summary of what they considered necessary reforms.

  1. Legalization must be a major element of any policy change. A substantial number of undocumented immigrant workers are long-term U.S. residents, work hard, pay taxes, and otherwise abide by our laws.
  2. Temporary worker programs by themselves are not a viable long-term policy option. Any temporary worker program that might emerge from this debate must be markedly different from the status quo.… Some undocumented workers come to the U.S. with the intention of returning to their home countries. They do not seek to be immigrants, and often end up “trapped” in the United States because our border control policies make it too difficult to depart and re-enter, swelling the ranks of the undocumented.
  3. It is essential for any workers who participate [in temporary worker programs] to be fully covered by U.S. labor laws, including the right to change employers, strong protections for wages and working conditions, the right to unionize, and the ability to keep their families together.
  4. Finally, any temporary worker program must also include a path to adjustment of status for its workers; that is, if their labor is needed here year after year, they should be able to choose to remain in the United States as immigrants, having demonstrated that their labor is of value here.

Ironically, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) said during those hearings that they’d had “an excellent week to really bring this topic to the forefront of the thinking across America”.

The next week was not as excellent. The Senate sent S. 778 back to the House on September 10. After September 11, the Bush administration turned to draconian enforcement and racist policies. Right? Not on immigration reform. On October 11, INS Commissioner Ziglar said to the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims:

It has been said that after September 11 “everything has changed.” I hope that is not true. America must remain America, a symbol of freedom and a beacon of hope to those who seek a better life for themselves and their children. We must increase our security and improve our systems but in doing so we must not forget what has made this nation great—our openness to new ideas and new people, and a commitment to individual freedom, shared values, innovation and the free market. If, in response to the events of September 11, we engage in excess and shut out what has made America great, then we will have given the terrorists a far greater victory than they could have hoped to achieve.

Deport Bush

Meanwhile, Bush has tried hard to let illegal immigrants apply for citizenship without deporting them. Richard Renner, Columbus, March 26 2006.

The President continued to fight for H.R. 1885, and it (as H.Res 365) passed the House again on March 13, 2002.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) promised to bring H.R. 1885 up after Easter recess that year, but I can find no record of it after the House passed their amended version. It may have been blocked by Senator Byrd (D-West Virginia), who promised to vote against it; this would have kept it from passing by unanimous consent, thus requiring that the Democratic leadership of the time place it on the crowded Senate calendar.

President Bush continued to push it in speeches at least as late as May 4, 2002, when he said, “I’ve asked our Congress to pass an extension of Section 245(i) of our immigration law to let families stay together while they become permanent residents. We’re working together to improve conditions for people living along the border. And we’re working together to create an entire hemisphere that lives in liberty and trades in freedom.”

The slow road to reform

Despite polls showing strong support for blocking immigration, the President did not give up. Rebuilding congressional support for immigration reform after the September 11 attacks took time, but President Bush, the Republican leadership, and pro-immigration Democrats such as Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts worked slowly to bring reform back on the table.

On January 7, 2004, Bush proposed a new temporary worker program. This program even included retirement benefits for temporary workers—echoing one of the “principles” laid out by La Raza back in 2001.

As a nation that values immigration, and depends on immigration, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud. Yet today we do not. Instead, we see many employers turning to the illegal labor market. We see millions of hard-working men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive, undocumented economy.…

Their search for a better life is one of the most basic desires of human beings. Many undocumented workers have walked mile after mile, through the heat of the day and the cold of the night. Some have risked their lives in dangerous desert border crossings, or entrusted their lives to the brutal rings of heartless human smugglers. Workers who seek only to earn a living end up in the shadows of American life—fearful, often abused and exploited. When they are victimized by crime, they are afraid to call the police, or seek recourse in the legal system. They are cut off from their families far away, fearing if they leave our country to visit relatives back home, they might never be able to return to their jobs.

The situation I described is wrong. It is not the American way. Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling. We must make our immigration laws more rational, and more humane. And I believe we can do so without jeopardizing the livelihoods of American citizens.

At a December 20, 2004 press conference he continued to talk about compassion towards illegal immigrants:

Q—since early in your first term you’ve talked about immigration reform, but, yet, people in your own party on the Hill seem opposed to this idea. And you’ve gotten opposition even on the other side. Do you plan to expend some of your political capital this time to see this through?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that… let me talk about the immigration issue. First, we want our border patrol agents chasing crooks and thieves and drug runners and terrorists, not good-hearted people who are coming here to work. And therefore, it makes sense to allow the good-hearted people who are coming here to do jobs that Americans won’t do a legal way to do so. And providing that legal avenue, it takes the pressure off the border.

… Once the person is here, if he or she feels like he or she needs to go back to see her family, to the country of origin, they should be able to do so.… It’s a compassionate way to treat people who come to our country. It recognizes the reality of the world in which we live.

And this is a very important issue… I was the governor of Texas right there on the front lines of border politics. I know what it means to have mothers and fathers come to my state and across the border of my state to work. Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River, is what I used to tell the people of my state. People are coming to put food on the table…

And to me, it makes sense for us to recognize that reality, and to help those who are needing to enforce our borders; legalize the process of people doing jobs Americans won’t do; take the pressure off of employers so they’re not having to rely upon false IDs; cut out the coyotes who are the smugglers of these people, putting them in the back of tractor trailers in the middle of August in Texas, allowing people to suffocate in the back of the trucks; stop the process of people feeling like they’ve got to walk miles across desert in Arizona and Texas in order just to feed their family, and they find them dead out there. I mean, this is a system that can be much better.

Wanted for Mass Murder

This one’s just so far out in left field I don’t know what to say about it. Bush and Rice have both taken heat for recommending immigration reform that “recognises our humanity”. Debra La Cruz, Los Angeles, March 25 2006.

On May 13, 2005, Arizona Republican John McCain and Ted Kennedy announced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, a “broad immigration overhaul with a multistep path to citizenship for illegal aliens and a new program for foreign workers that could increase yearly legal immigration by 400,000 people.” Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe, along with Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez introduced SAOIA in the House.

Sometime before September 20, Bush and his administration began pushing the Senate to pass this reform. On November 28, he spoke out about it in Arizona. Among all the new rhetoric about securing borders, he continued to press for pro-immigration reform such as the Orderly Immigration part of SAOIA. Doing this now meant convincing fence-sitters that it was not a blanket amnesty.

Listen, there’s a lot of opinions on this proposal—I understand that. But people in this debate must recognize that we will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary worker program. The program that I proposed would not create an automatic path to citizenship, it wouldn’t provide for amnesty—I oppose amnesty. Rewarding those who have broken the law would encourage others to break the law and keep pressure on our border.

To anti-immigration forces, however, the McCain-Kennedy reforms and Bush’s proposals were amnesty. They allowed illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship here, rather than having to return to Mexico. They even required employers to pay into social security and medicare, so that temporary workers would receive benefits.

Still, Jeff Flake said that while it was going to be tough work—especially in the House—there was a good chance they’d get it done.

The quick road to loss

On December 17, 2005, the House passed an immigration-enforcement bill without the guest-worker program or the path-to-citizenship program that the President wanted. The Republican National Committee moved to support the President and everyone expected the Senate version of the bill to contain both of those provisions. It would then get worked out in committee; with the president and the Republican National Committee supporting it, but House Republicans opposing it, compassionate reform would have been a tough sell but likely would have passed.

Protests began in February but were small. They became larger when organizations got involved that seemed to care less about improving our immigration laws than about “getting” George Bush. Signs such as “deport Bush” and “the Bush regime is wanted for mass murder” began to appear and get media play.

On March 28th, the bipartisan McCain-Kennedy bill passed the Senate Judiciary committee 12-6. It included a guest worker program, a path to citizenship, and possible benefits for illegal aliens. Time Magazine ran a cover story titled How Kennedy Got His Way.

Protests continued, filled with signs denouncing Republicans and Bush. Bipartisan support for passing comprehensive reform began to fall apart. On April 5, Senate Republicans Chuck Hagel and Mel Martinez (Florida) introduced a bill designed to overcome objections to the McCain-Kennedy bill without losing the guest worker and citizenship paths that the President wanted.

By April 7 even the compromise had been put on hold for a few weeks. President Bush continued to stump for “compassionate” reform, while taking, perhaps, a jab at the uncivil protests that were jeopardizing this reform, as well as the hard-line calls for more fences.

This nation of ours is having an important debate about immigration, and it is vitally important that this debate be conducted in a civil tone. I believe that the American Dream is open to all who work hard and play by the rules, and that America does not have to choose between being a compassionate society and a society of law.

An immigration system that forces people into the shadows of our society, or leaves them prey to criminals is a system that needs to be changed. I’m confident that we can change our immigration system in ways that secures our border, respects the rule of law, and, as importantly, upholds the decency of our country. As the Congress continues this debate, its members must remember we are a nation of immigrants. And immigration has helped restore our soul on a regular basis.

Bush threatened a presidential veto on any bill that did not include a guest worker program and a path to citizenship program; it would have been the first veto of his entire six years as president. On May 15 he addressed the nation with a specific request to Congress: don’t just give me anti-immigration enforcement.

Meet the Fuckers

This guy opposes immigration reform so much that he insults two of its largest supporters on his t-shirt. Debra La Cruz, Los Angeles, March 25 2006.

Tonight, I want to speak directly to members of the House and the Senate: An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all. The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills, and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.

But it didn’t matter. Republican leaders tried to hold Republican Senators together, but the Senators were hearing too much opposition from their own constituents who didn’t like what they saw on TV. Meanwhile, the Democrats were also watching TV, and realized that they could stall immigration reform without worry of losing votes from immigration supporters. Immigration supporters who carried signs saying “Deport Bush” were not going to vote Republican just because Democrats didn’t support the Bush immigration reform.

The Senate finally voted for the compromise bill (S. 2611) on May 25. It was heavily amended, including amendments to:

  • Build more fences and vehicle barriers “along the southwest border of the United States”.
  • Reduce H-2C guest worker limit by 125,000 and cap it for the foreseeable future.
  • Increase funding to the Border Patrol, including helicopters, body armor, and weapons, to “rapidly respond to threats to border security”.
  • Reduce eligibility for the path to citizenship program.
  • Increase the application fee by $750, plus another $100 each for a spouse and any children.
  • Declare English the “national language”.
  • Authorize sending the National Guard “to secure the southern border of the United States”.

These amendments came from Republicans and Democrats. Despite these hard-line amendments, the Senate version of the bill, because it still contains some compassionate reform, will be difficult to pass.

Several senators said after the vote that President Bush’s participation in the political maneuvering will be key to crafting a compromise.

“I believe we can do it,” Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, told reporters. “I believe the president will put a very heavy shoulder to the wheel.”

President Bush commended the Senate on its work in “passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.”

Vote for Nobody

Immigration reformers complained so loudly about George Bush and the Republicans that they made the reform position politically untenable. The President and a few Republican leaders might be holding tough, but fence-sitters in the House and Senate aren’t. The protestors and their tactics have awakened people’s fears about unlimited immigration. Now, even the Democrats are jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon. Is that what the reformers wanted?

Oddly, hidden behind the post-protest tough talk, Bush is still trying for a more open and humane immigration policy. And early supporter Chuck Hagel, one of the three senators who continued to vote no on funding the fence, is the Republican Senator who introduced S. 778 into the Senate and who co-sponsored the latest reform, S. 2611.

Personally, I’m all for opening the border, specifically at border access points. Let anyone in, run background checks, and require them to check in at regular intervals. What President Bush said in 2004 made sense: get the good people into the system, and this frees up the border patrol to patrol the border knowing that anyone trying to sneak across doesn’t expect to pass legally. Since the only reason not to get through legally is terrorist or other criminal connections, the border patrol can act like police or even like the military. They wouldn’t be hunting down families like they are today.

However, because of the reformers’ unreasoning partisan hatred, we’re not going to be seeing anything like that reform any time soon. Not unless the President can pull a miracle. But we will see soldiers marching up and down the border.

In politics, it is detrimental to support (or oppose) a party rather than an issue. Imagine the difference if the activists had carried signs asking the House to restore the Bush immigration bill! Imagine protesters carrying signs saying “we support the Bush, Rove, Hagel, McCain, & Kennedy reforms.” And signs quoting the president, such as “Immigration is not a problem to be solved” or “Common sense and fairness: the true American Way” or “Family Values do not stop at the Rio Grande”. “Immigration is the soul of our nation.”

Democrats and Republicans would have united to become pro-reform. Democrats to retain votes that they thought they might lose, and Republicans to gain votes they thought they could gain. Even the public backlash would have been muted or reversed. The public would have seen reasoned discourse and reacted in kind—or just gone to bed. Instead they saw Mexican flags, Fuck Bush, and Wanted for Mass Murder.

Photographs used without permission for purposes of commentary. Photos have been cropped to focus only on the portions relevant to the commentary. Follow the link on each photograph to see the original.

February 1, 2017: There is no sanctuary without walls
No sanctuary without walls

I was in the dentist’s office last year, and overheard a conversation about a guy up from a South or Central American country whose house had been shot up by police for exposing corruption. He was here under an assumed name, and needed dental work, so the dentist had blocked out time for the patient under an obviously fake name. The dentist was explaining to the dental assistants why a fake name was on their calendar. The patient needed a fake name in the United States because his persecutors might also be here.

Because we have no walls to keep them out.

Without walls, we’re not just letting this person in. We’re letting in the people who want to kill him, too. If we don’t treat sanctuary seriously, we are doing people who need sanctuary a dangerous disservice. Sanctuary isn’t sanctuary if you let everyone in.

Letting in both the people escaping corruption and violence, and the people causing corruption and violence is denying sanctuary. Sanctuary cities are anything but sanctuaries when they let violent criminals walk free, especially when they’re allowed to walk free because they’re here illegally, as sanctuary cities do. Even when it means shielding illegal immigrants from drunk-driving laws.

This is the typical one-dimensional thinking of the anointed. Letting refugees in is a good, without question. But letting people in who merely say they are refugees is to let in the persecutors as well, and provide no refuge at all.

Incidentally, long before Donald Trump, I wrote that the ideal immigration policy would be to let everyone in at the doors—with a vetting process—and then we would know that everyone not coming in at the doors shouldn’t be let in.

The one policy that Trump has been riding successfully is his immigration policy. His opponents argue that we should not deny sanctuary to people escaping corruption and violence. But what they mean is that we should stop anybody from coming in. If they say they’re a refugee, or a 12-year-old, we are not supposed to question that. Even though it puts real refugees (and real 12-year-olds) at risk. It isn’t just If we don’t have borders we don’t have a country, as Trump said. If we don’t have borders we cannot provide sanctuary.

November 25, 2015: Why Americans distrust Obama’s refugee policy

Why is it politically helpful to call for a ban on all Syrian refugees? Because people have seen the government lie to them just in the last few months about “widows and children”.

Americans don’t distrust refugees. They distrust the federal government, because they have seen the federal government’s deliberate failures and deliberate lies about illegal immigrants.

No politician would be calling for blocking Syrian refugees if the Obama administration had not bypassed all normal entrance procedures to let in South American refugee “children” who were 18, 19, 20 years old and older.

It wouldn’t be politically feasible.

No politician would be calling for blocking Syrian refugees if we weren’t still looking at sanctuary cities going out of their way to not help track down and deport seriously criminal illegal immigrants who murder, rape, and steal.

If San Francisco’s and the President’s response to Kate Steinle’s murder had been “we have to do better to separate good immigrants from dangerous ones” instead of “you’re racist for thinking this murder has anything to do with illegal immigration” it probably wouldn’t be politically feasible to now oppose Syrian refugees.

We have an immigration system. But Americans justifiably don’t trust it to weed out the dangerous from the refugees because Americans aren’t stupid. They see, as President Reagan asked them to, what they see.

Should we be refusing Syrian refugees? No. But there is no alternative as long as the federal government refuses to do its job. This is what happens when people don’t trust the government.

We should have reformed the legal immigration system as soon as South American refugees started pouring into the country.

We should have reformed the legal immigration system as soon as it became more popular to break the law to get here than to follow the legal procedures.

We should have tightened our border security at the same time

Instead, in a world where every American goes into a database when they are born, when they get a drivers license, when they get a job and pay into social security, when they sign up for the Affordable Care Act, when they just get on a fucking airplane, the DC establishment is telling us it’s racist to want a database of refugees who are bypassing the normal immigration process.

It’s racist to ask refugees to go through the same sort of no-entry system that every American goes through when they get on a plane.

  1. <- Comic-Con 2006
  2. Culture of Incompetence ->