Backers of the Senate’s “comprehensive” immigration-reform plan are trying to revive the moribund measure by talking tough and spending big. It’s not enough.
The Grand Bargainers that crafted the original deal behind closed doors have correctly deduced that the bill failed the first time around for one simple reason: The public doesn’t trust politicians to crack down on illegal immigration.
There’s good reason for this popular skepticism. A generation ago, the 1986 immigration reforms offered the same “grand bargain” of amnesty for illegal immigrants in exchange for vigorous enforcement of immigration law and enhanced border-security measures. Americans have lived with this bargain for 20 years now, and most have concluded it’s a bum deal.
Far from putting a stop to illegal immigration, the ’86 bargain served only to open the floodgates. Amnesty came immediately, but enforcement never arrived. As a result, the number of illegal immigrants soared, from 3 million then to at least 12 million today. That’s at least one illegal immigrant for every 25 citizens.
Desperate to make the latest promise to tighten security sound sincere, the bill’s advocates have added a new wrinkle to the old deal: an amendment promising to spend an additional $4.4 billion to enforce existing immigration policy and law. In the words of Sen. Arlen Specter, (R., Penn.), “It will give the American people confidence.” Confidence that, this time, Congress really, really means it. Really.
The amendment’s premise is nothing new. Whenever politicians want to show their “concern” and their “commitment” to solving a problem, they instinctively throw more money at it. It allows them to say they’ve “done something,” even though the extra spending may not accomplish anything.
Spending is a false metric. In practice, it bears little relationship to results. Take the War on Poverty. Over the last 40 years we’ve spent more than $10 trillion in this battle. Yet progress in reducing the poverty rate still lags the gains registered in the “prewar” era.
Or consider the No Child Left Behind initiative. Federal education spending has soared nearly 40 percent over the last five years. Yet scores on national standardized tests show no improvement, and drop-out rates continue to rise.