Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 6/1/2007 [Archive]

None Dare Call It Amnesty - interview



Lots of people who will be voting on the controversial Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill now working its way through the Senate probably will never even read it. But Mark Krikorian has studied it carefully -- and doesn't like it a bit.

Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS.org), a Washington, D.C., think tank that describes itself as a nonpartisan 'pro-immigrant, low-immigration' research center 'that seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.' I talked to him by telephone on Thursday, May 31, from his office in Washington:

Q: President Bush says critics of the immigration reform bill in the Senate haven't read it. I know that you must have read the bill. What's the single worst aspect of it?

A: The worst thing about the bill isn't the language so much as the complete lack of credibility on enforcement by the president. In other words, no one believes that this president is remotely interested in enforcing the immigration laws. So it doesn't matter what the provisions of the bill are because they are not going to be implemented.

Q: What's the reason for the president not enforcing it?

A: The president is emotionally and psychologically repelled by the idea of enforcing immigration laws. He sees it as uncompassionate, as un-Christian, especially with regard to Mexico. But he sees Mexico as kind of a proxy for all immigration and he loves his Mexican servants and therefore all immigration must be good.

Q: You're saying this bill is a meaningless political exercise?

A: Well, it's not meaningless because, if it passes, the consequences would be extraordinary in legalizing -- "amnestying" -- millions of illegal aliens. But that's the key. The point of this bill is to amnesty illegal immigrants. Everything else in it is window dressing. It's the spoonful of enforcement that helps the amnesty go down. And even that spoonful of enforcement wouldn't happen until we swallow the amnesty.

Q: What about the president insisting this is not an amnesty bill and saying that the illegals who are here now will have to seek legal status and pay fines and learn English?

A: Even if all those requirements are met, it doesn't matter, because an amnesty means the illegal aliens get to stay legally. The hoops they have to jump through, the fees they have to pay, what have you, are irrelevant, because everywhere in the world, when governments seek to legalize illegal immigrants, that's called 'an amnesty.' The problem for the amnesty supporters is that they focused-grouped the word and found out people hate it. And we tried it 20 years ago, and why are we doing it again?

Q: What about the border fences and the point system -- is this stuff also justwhat you call 'window dressing'?

A: Yes. None of that stuff would be in the bill if it weren't necessary to attract votes for the amnesty. In other words, there is no reason that they would have these phony changes in legal immigration except that they want to use it as a selling point to say that this is part of the package in exchange for amnesty. The increases in border fencing -- which incidentally is only half of what the Senate approved last year -- is only there to appease skeptics. The president doesn't want to build any fencing at all. He's only saying he will do it if that's the price that he has to pay for amnesty.

Q: This is scary: You're saying that President Bush actually knows what he wants to do and is about to get it?

A: I don't know that he's about to get it. Practically speaking, I think there is still a good chance this will fall apart in the Senate and an even better chance that it will fall apart in the House. But the president does know what he wants, which is de facto open borders: legalizing the illegals who are here and letting any willing worker overseas get a job with any willing employer, which is a pretty compact definition of open borders.

Q: Would you prefer that this compromise bill just go away or die?

A: Yeah. No bill is better than this bill. In fact, it's hard to see a rationale for any more legislation coming out of Congress until the public is confident that the president will enforce whatever the rules happen to be. In other words, he's spent six years ignoring the immigration laws so far. Why would he or his successors be trusted to enforce the new set of rules? So instead of new laws, what we need is a commitment, a demonstrated commitment, to enforce the rules. And only then can we talk about reforming them or changing them.

Q: Let's pretend it's 2009 and we have a new president. What's your solution to the immigration crisis?

A: The way this is often presented is that there are only two choices: One is deport 12 million people tomorrow, which we couldn't do if we wanted to, and the other is amnesty, one way or another. In fact, those aren't the options we face. The only thing that will actually work is the third way, which is attrition through enforcement -- reducing the number of new illegals coming in and compelling a large number of illegals to give up and deport themselves because they can't find a job, they can't live a normal life here. What that does is reverse the trend. Instead of seeing the illegal population grow every year, we can -- realistically -- change things so that it starts declining every year. And after a few years, then we can talk about what we do. Do we live with it as a manageable nuisance -- the smaller illegal population -- or do we then maybe want to talk about legalizing some people? I don't know. But that's a debate we can have in the future. It's not even an appropriate subject for discussion now.

Q: While the attrition process is going on, should there be a guest-worker program where people come through a gate instead of jumping over fences?

A: No. There's no excuse for any large guest-worker program. A vast, mobile labor force like ours -- willing to move, willing to change jobs, change occupations -- does not need to be supplemented by peasant labor from abroad. A 21st-century society like ours doesn't need 19th-century workers to function.

That doesn't mean the economy won't accommodate their presence. We have a very flexible economy. So we have lots of illiterates? Well, then, the economy generates jobs for lots of illiterates -- lawn care that people should be doing on their own; pool cleaning that electronic devices could do just as well. Things like that. We'll accommodate the labor; we have no need for it. And if we enforce the law and gradually reduce the illegal population, Adam Smith has confided in me that we'll be able to deal with it.

Q: And if these 12 million to 20 million illegal people suddenly disappeared, how would the market adjust?

A: Well, several things would happen if we reduce the illegal population. First, it wouldn't happen overnight. It would be a process, not an event, which allows the market to adjust. The way the adjustment would happen would be twofold. One, employers would do a variety of things to attract more of the existing work force -- that is to say raising wages and benefits, improving working conditions, changing the way they recruit people -- maybe from out of state or in colleges, what have you. But at the same time, employers would find ways of using the existing labor force more efficiently, whether it's machinery, whether it's farmers planting different kinds of crops that don't require as much hand labor. All different kinds of things can happen, even in service industries, and the presence of all of this cheap foreign labor actually slows that process of productivity improvements and mechanization in the industries where these people are concentrated.

Q: Does the future of the GOP hinge on the implantation of a 'more welcoming immigration' policy, as Sen. John McCain and others have said?

A: Yes and no. Clearly the Republican Party needs to reach out to all parts of our population. There are a lot of Hispanics. There is potential willingness to hear the Republican Party's message so key Republicans can continue to get a substantial portion of the Hispanic vote. But there are two reasons that continuing mass immigration and illegal alien amnesties are bad for the Republican Party: One, we are importing people who are simply more likely to vote Democrat. That's always going to be the case with new immigrants, no matter where they are from. And Number 2, this policy of open borders and lax enforcement on the part of Republicans demoralizes ordinary Republican voters, so that they see less and less reason to vote for Republican officials because their immigration policies are the same as the Democrats.

Q: Do you have any hope that our fabulous government and the wonderful politicians who run it are going to be able to solve this immigration problem?

A: Well, immigration isn't so much a discrete problem to be solved as something to be managed -- forever. We're always going to have some level of illegal immigration and some level of legal immigration. The question is, 'How do we run it? How high are the levels? Are we willing to enforce the rules?'

I think we will see a real sea change in the attitudes of the political elite on immigration, if only because of security threats. The fact is that much of our elite has become what I call 'post-American.' They've moved beyond concern for the national interest and become citizens of the world, if you will. But the threat -- especially from militant Islam -- is going to compel them to undertake better and more-serious immigration enforcement, just like a century ago, when the Bolshevik Revolution and anarchism here at home compelled business interests to permit immigration to be reduced, which is something they had resisted for decades.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com.© Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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