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Illegal Conundrums


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William F. Buckley Jr.

Democratic protocols get pretty elusive these days. In an attempt to sort it all out, we hovered for a moment on a wild idea. Why not send the illegals to France?

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But delirious ideas have short lives, as they should have, and one seeks to learn from experience. We begin today by saying that, in France, the mobs don’t exactly rule, but they seem to have a veto power. The utter capitulation of President Chirac disgraces him, his party, French democratic processes, and economic common sense. And, incidentally, it reminds us of the authority of the mob in French history, beginning with the inglorious revolution which even politicians of singularly independent dispositions — like Charles de Gaulle — feel the need to propitiate by public obeisances (“Vive la Révolution!”) on ceremonial occasions. The mobs all but chased de Gaulle out of town in 1968, and they have shown us, in the past weeks, their continuing power to triumph over thoughtful republican procedures aimed at reforming retrograde French practices.

Over here, the mobs have not quite yet assumed power, though it is possible that they have paved the way to supremacy on the issue being currently debated, namely how to cope with the illegals.

It pays to give a little thought to the magnitude of the problem. Some demographers believe that the real figure for the illegal population is not 11 million, but 16 million. It is possible that the figure is somewhere in between, which raises the question: How’re you going to get an accurate count, exactly? One recalls, in the final chapters of apartheid, thought given to how to figure out whether a South African human being was white or black or colored. The problem did not come to a bloody boil, because it was finally, wearily, decided that the best way to handle that vexed question was to declare that everybody who lived in South Africa was a South African.

By such reasoning, everybody who lives in America is an American. But of course that is to deal lightly with the authority of America, Inc., to decide who is and who is not, properly speaking, an American.

But since we are looking into practical questions, we must add the most urgent: First you identify the illegals — then you expel them?

But that is an enormous job. And fatefully complicated by the U.S. Constitution, which says that anyone born on U.S. soil is a citizen. How many of those 11-16 million illegals gave birth in U.S. hospitals (or for that matter, in U.S. parking lots): Is it proposed that we undertake to separate these mothers from their children?

We do not have the exact count involving Operation Keelhaul, but it is estimated as being in the vicinity of two million. That was the number of Russians whom we agreed, however reluctantly, to repatriate to their motherland in 1945, so that Josef Stalin could keep his Gulags fully occupied.

But we — Americans and British — did it. It was however much easier than deporting the current illegals would be inasmuch as these wretched Russians seeking refuge were heavily concentrated in military and paramilitary centers, so we could stick them into trains heading east, and figure out some way to reconcile our consciences to what we had done.

But just to round up 11 million-plus illegals presents a logistical problem of the first magnitude. Who would undertake that job? How many sleuths would be required in order absolutely to establish that this person’s papers are fraudulent, that other one’s valid? The undertaking would be dismaying and, conceivably, an asymptotic killer.

We can’t predict what kind of a bill the Senate will come in with, after staring on television at the crowds who pledge themselves to life in America. But the practical challenge of mass deportations has got to play a role in our deliberations. One practical reform which we do have the power to enact is to repeal the provision in the 14th Amendment which confers citizenship on anyone born on U.S. soil. And then, laws are everywhere required to take sterner measures against voting by noncitizens. If we are going to be ruled by the mob, the mob should not show up with phony credentials.



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