Monday, November 1, 2010

What We Need is an Ellis Island for the American Southwest

One of the big issues in this year's mid-term election is immigration. As usual there is a lot of bluster on both sides of the issue. But one thing that I haven't seen is a lot of ideas for actually controlling immigration in an orderly manner. Conservatives, when not jumping up and down screaming "What part of illegal don't you understand!" tend to focus on enforcement, calling for border fences and putative action against employers who hire illegal aliens. Liberals tend to focus on legalizing illegal aliens, talking about "a path to citizenship" and using the word "comprehensive" a lot. And Libertarians call for open borders.

The problem with enforcement is that it doesn't work. While it is not a particularly well known fact, president Obama has actually increased the rate of deportation of illegal aliens and auditing of businesses which hire illegals. And yet the screams of the opponents of illegal immigration have never been louder. The truth is that we'll never be able to deport 12 million illegal immigrants and until we as a nation admit that, we'll never solve our problems with immigration.

That's where the liberal "path to citizenship" comes in; whether you call it an amnesty, a pardon or whatever; an illegal would come forward, pay a large fine, and "go to the back of the line" where after a period of time they would be eligible for citizenship. While it seems like a fairly good idea to liberal ears, the major problem with it is that the average Democratic politician doesn't have the guts to actually go through with it. For example the DREAM Act which was a relatively modest version of this idea (applying only to young people with no criminal records who agreed to join the military or attend college) was proposed but will not be voted on until the Senate's lame duck session largely because Democrats were afraid of blow back in the election. With large Republican gains and possibly an outright Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress expected in tomorrow's election, it seems unlikely that the lemmings in Congress are likely to approve any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.

In the very unlikely case that our government does grow a spine however what's wrong with the open borders policy advocated by Libertarians? Nothing really except that it removes a lot of control from the government. And Americans would fear increased competition for low-paying jobs from cheap, illegal immigrant labor. And of course it makes it easier for terrorists, drug dealers, and other assorted nogoodnicks to get into the country. The truth is that no country has truly open borders and the United States will not be the first.

Ellis Island-27527So here's my idea. Politicians love to idealize the past and pander to voters who long for the "good old days." So why not reach into the past and create another Ellis Island, this time for the American Southwest.

Basically, the United States would create one or more processing centers on its border with Mexico. They would be places where potential immigrants could go, get some papers and maybe a lead on a job. They could also be searched, vaccinated, and be subject to background checks. The upside would be that the United States would know who is entering the country and would be able to track them more easily if it needed to do so. It would also eliminate the dangerous crossings of the border which have led to the death of many illegal aliens. With thousands of illegal immigrants removed from the other parts of the border, drug runners and terrorists trying to cross the border would be more likely to stand out and border enforcement would be more likely to work.

This would be a small part or of a truly comprehensive reform of our immigration system. A single processing center on our southern border would not resolve the problem of immigrants overstaying their visas. And it certainly wouldn't do a thing about the 12 million illegals who are already here. But it could resolve the emotionally charged issue of people crossing our border illegally.

Of course this is all just spitting in the wind if our politicians continue to be either gutless talkers or mendacious panderers on this issue. And the current election cycle doesn't give me much hope. But if America's politicians do ever grow up and actually fix this problem, it would help if they'd look the story of Ellis Island for inspiration.

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