The Ghost of Immigration Reform

Published on October 24th, 2007

Rumors of amnesty’s death have been greatly exaggerated

By Mark Cromer
September 2007

Was it really just three months ago that the powerful bi-partisan architects of the Senate’s so-called ‘Grand Compromise’ on immigration reform watched as their sweeping legislation imploded in that august chamber?

The bitter rage that flowed from Ted Kennedy and the resentful smirks of President Bush—who had defiantly vowed he would see America “at the bill signing” shortly before the compromise collapsed—looked like reassuring signs for citizens that this time around the stake had been properly driven through the heart of mass amnesty for illegal immigrants.

That stunning accomplishment seemed to herald a rare but critical triumph of middle America’s common sense over an increasingly detached Washington culture that’s now more accustomed to governing by imperial fiat than an honest representation of the majority’s will.

What a difference a few months makes.

Far from chastened by the angry rebuke they were dealt by the American people, the Senate’s elite went right back to work with the strange alliance of labor-intensive business interests and radically ethnocentric Latino activists.

The lesson they took from the defeat of their grand amnesty was not that a vast majority of American citizens demand real border security and sustained enforcement of our immigration laws, including aggressive deportations, before any consideration can be given to the status of some illegal immigrants.

No, the lesson they drew on amnesty was: think big, but start small.

Thus Sen. Richard Durbin has retooled—as quietly as possible—an initial amnesty to be offered to illegal immigrants who crossed the border when they were 15 or younger. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s blessing, Durbin plans to attach the bill to a massive defense appropriations bill, rather than thoroughly debate the proposal and conduct a vote on its merits alone.

While not as Biblically epic in its scope as the ‘Grand Compromise,’ Sen. Durbin was cynical enough to imbue it with a wholesome title that could wistfully be evoked by its proponents: The ‘DREAM Act.’ (This is the soundbite-friendly acronym for its full title, The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act)

After all, who would vote against a child’s dreams?

Of course, in order to dress it up as something other than a mass amnesty, the legislation is salted with requirements that apparently are supposed to amount to something Durbin can claim is “earned legalization.” Sound familiar?

Among them are stipulations that illegal immigrants would have to “prove” that they arrived in the United States when they were 15 or younger, have lived here for at least five consecutive years, have graduated from an American high school (or obtained an equivalence certificate) and have no significant criminal record.

Given the massive counterfeit document industry illegal immigrants have now established in the United States—bogus driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, birth certificates and even passports are as readily obtained on the street as drugs—these requirements are just more vintage fiction from the same senators who wanted us to believe they were serious about securing the border and enforcing the law last summer.

Here’s a reality check: The security wall that American citizens were promised along hundreds of miles of the southern border remains non-existent, the high-tech virtual fence is a bust, the National Guard is being withdrawn and the Border Patrol remains overworked and completely unsupported by the Bush Administration.

By this time next year, it’s a good bet another million-plus immigrants fleeing chaos, poverty and corruption to the south will illegally cross the American frontier. And it’s safe to say that among the scores of hard working decent people who are desperate for a better future, there will also be plenty of drug pushers, rapists, gang members, and stone-cold killers coming to America.

With the passage of the DREAM Act, the message that will resonate across Latin America will simply be: Get your kids across the Rio Grande, get them into free public school and within a few years they will be on their way to a Social Security account.

Just how many illegal immigrants will be ushered toward citizenship should Durbin’s bill be passed and signed into law is unclear; partly because the official projection of 12-million illegal immigrants in the country is a vast undercount by every independent measure.

But what is clear is this: taxpayer-funded services, from education to healthcare, are among the most potent “pull factors” that draw illegal immigrants into the United States—as equally enticing if not more so than the prospect of a better job and wage.

Durbin’s DREAM Act manages to ice that cake even further, turning America into Fantasy Island by promising parents that we’ll not only educate their children at no cost to them, but convert them promptly into citizens.

The message couldn’t be more clear: Just get here.

A dream for Durbin & Co., perhaps, but for the American citizen struggling to get by and living with a public education system already badly eroded, it is now a reoccurring nightmare.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.capsweb.org . He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].

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