Mickey Kaus and Mark Krikorian have already acutely analyzed the new Gang of Eight’s “comprehensive immigration-reform” proposal; I will simply embroider on their observations. As Kaus has pointed out, the proposal is tantamount to an immediate, unconditional amnesty, and thus will lead to the same moral hazard — attracting further illegal immigration — as every previous amnesty in the U.S. and Europe. Nothing of consequence to an intending illegal alien distinguishes the “probationary status” that will be granted upon payment of a fine and back taxes from full-fledged legal status. It is of no import that a probationer will not be immediately eligible to vote. After the 1986 amnesty, very few newly legal Hispanics sought to become American citizens. Only Proposition 187 spurred a slight uptick in that direction.
No intending illegal alien is going to be deterred from trying to enter by learning that the only thing that stands between him and legal status is paying a fine and taxes. Kaus’s point here is critical: Far from making illegal aliens go to the “back of the line,” this proposal gives them the immeasurable advantage of legal presence in the U.S. while waiting for their green card, unlike aliens obeying the law and waiting in their own country for permission to enter.
The outline is silent on what would cause the revocation of probationary status. Perhaps the commission of “serious crimes,” but the statement of principles is impenetrably ambiguous on this point. If the commission of “serious crime” is indeed the trigger for potentially (emphasis on the “potential” part) losing probationary status, it means that a whole host of “unserious crimes” may still be committed with impunity by “probationary” illegals without jeopardizing their safe haven from the law. The distinction between “serious” and “unserious” crime should have in any case been long since retired; New York City’s triumph over all crime through the enforcement of low-level misdemeanor statutes shows that enforcement of misdemeanor laws is as critical to public safety as felony arrests (and even more important to a community’s sense of order and safety).
As soon as widespread probationary status is granted, expect to hear about the plight of probationers “living in the shadows.” Pressure will be enormous to immediately convert to permanent-residency status.
There is little chance that immigration enforcement will be beefed up following “comprehensive immigration reform.” To the contrary, the campaign to delegitimize all immigration enforcement — see the wildly successful attacks on the no-brainer Secure Communities program — will continue. ICE is in stampeding retreat from Secure Communities, having recently announced that it is interested in hearing about an illegal-alien criminal only if he has committed a “serious” felony or three “serious misdemeanors.” That capitulation has not satisfied the critics; the New York City Council and California legislators, among other politicians, are busily figuring out new ways to foil the feds (without provoking any lawsuits claiming preemption from the Justice Department).
The Gang of Eight’s proposal does not reveal whether an illegal alien would have to show that he has resided in the U.S. for a certain period of time to qualify for “probationary” status. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Since we are going to have an amnesty one way or another, the goal should be to decrease its costs to the American taxpayer. Requiring that an illegal show that he has lived here for five years, say, will only lead to fraud and complicate the legalization process. On the other hand, putting no duration requirements in will only encourage people even more to get in now to qualify.
Unlike Senator Marco Rubio’s much-heralded recent Wall Street Journal interview, the current proposal says nothing about moving the immigration system away from family reunification as its guiding principle to seeking immigrants with high skills. That omission signals that such a reorientation is not in the cards; indeed, in the press conference announcing the proposed framework, Senator Robert Menendez said in passing that the framework preserves family reunification.
Why does any of this matter? (Upholding the rule of law is of course an outdated concern.) Go to California to find out. Governor Jerry Brown recently announced his intention to redirect state education funding from relatively successful middle-class schools to schools with a high proportion of “English learners.” What is an “English learner”? In many cases, someone raised all his life in the U.S., but whose academic skills are so low that he is designated as a non-native English speaker. California already spends enormous sums trying to bring “English learners” up to competitive speed, with little success. Schools in East and South Los Angeles teem with gang-intervention specialists; they are there to try to disrupt the gang affiliations of the children of unmarried Hispanic mothers. Attracting more of this low-skilled population — half of illegal aliens have no high-school degrees, making up 22 percent of the U.S. population without a high-school degree, according to Peter Skerry — is not in the country’s best interests.
At the press conference, Senators Menendez and Rubio delivered their remarks in Spanish as well as English, sometimes embroidering on their English version, as when Menendez said to his non-English-speaking listeners that their “voices have been heard.” No one spoke in Chinese or German. I am a big advocate of learning foreign languages to better understand other cultures and human thought itself, but doing so should not be necessary to communicate with one’s fellow citizens. It is remarkable therefore that the growing Spanish-language imperative trumped any fears that a bilingual press conference does not exactly establish that assimilation is keeping pace with the growth of a parallel Hispanophone culture.
— Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at City Journal and co-author of The Immigration Solution.