Bush's Immigration Speech

| Tue May 16, 2006 2:35 PM EDT

I didn't bother listening to Bush's speech on immigration last night, but Kevin Drum's got a handy summary:

Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.
Well, let's see. He wants to deploy 6,000 National Guardsmen to the border. Let's do some counting. The United States has approximately 7,500 miles of remote and often rugged land border, plus miles of coastal and Caribbean border to patrol. The agents have to work in shifts. So… um… well, the TRAC project estimates that even 11,000 patrollers would come to one agent every four miles. This could be the most futile game of Red Rover ever devised. Maybe the guards can use those handy "motion sensors" to help out. We'll just hope they don't get tripped by wandering deer.

Bush is also expanding detention facilities for immigrants. If you want to see inhumane, check out this old interview I did with Mark Dow about immigrant detention facilities. "[E]xtreme forms of physical abuse are common." Seems like something the president could really get behind. And then there's this "guest worker program" business. Conservatives hate it, because the last time it was enacted, back in 1986, lots of illegal immigration ensued. Liberals should hate it because it's a way for businesses to import a captive labor force, one that won't complain about low pay or poor labor standards for fear of deportation.

So those proposals are all ludicrous. Now if either the president or Congress really wanted to crack down on illegal immigration, they'd institute a national identity card and levy steep fines on employers that hired illegally. If the supply of jobs dries up, presumably fewer immigrants will come here. So that, plus a path to citizenship for current immigrants and realistic (i.e., larger) quotas for legal immigrants would help "control" the flow of people coming in. And to his partial credit, Bush did also propose something along those lines. It's not nearly as liberal as I would have liked (Bush's is a business-friendly approach rather than a liberal approach, hence the guest-worker programs), but I guess it's a start. But seeing as how conservatives are now on suicide watch over Bush's speech, it seems quite unlikely that any sort of immigration reform will pass this year.

UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor has a good critical take on border enforcement here. I'd also note that border enforcement is often better at deterring immigrants from returning home rather than preventing them from coming in the first place. Keeping people in rather than out. So it can actually lead to a greater immigrant population than would otherwise be the case.

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