I have to admit that I’m with Jonah on the Bush immigration proposal. While I may not agree with all of the specifics, I think the general principles underlying the policy shift are good ones. As I heard one former Administration official characterize the Bush approach: The United States should welcome with open arms those who wish to come work, study, or visit peacefully, but should aggressively pursue and prosecute those who might do us harm.
I think its important to put the proposal in a larger context that includes recent homeland security measures and the increased prosecution of immigration violations. In the past 24 months, there has been an unprecedented crackdown on various immigration violations, such as visa overstays, as, as well as a general slowdown in the processing of visas and citizenship applications. Thus, in the big picture, the Bush Administration wants to make it easier for immigrants to work here legally, but is also prosecuting those who violate immigration rules more seriously. I expect the new policy signals a similar shift with regard to the treatment of companies that employ illegal immigrants. That is, once this policy change is instituted, there will be less institutional or political resistance to aggressive prosecution of companies that hire illegals. They’ve been given a “safe harbor,” and if they don’t take it they will bear the consequences. Finally, I would note that it has also become more important for the federal government to know the identities of non-citizens who are in the country. While no policy change is guaranteed to “document” all undocumented workers, as a practical matter, this policy does offer some hope of getting more illegal workers “in the system,” so that they can be identified, etc.