The new intelligence law, courtesy of 9/11, is mystifying because it does not face directly what is the most prominent threat to homeland security. It is: inimical action by non-Americans. All the people who participated in 9/11 were foreigners, here under various auspices. And yet the bill that has evolved from the findings of the 9/11 commission reads like an elocutionary exercise by a national committee to avoid saying anything unpleasant about unpleasant people born abroad.
Specifically; the threat at this moment is from foreign terrorism. The day may come when there are native-born Americans who join in such a threat — like the Weather Underground types we experienced during the Sixties.
But at this point, the terrorists come from abroad. “Last May,” writes National Interest editor John O’Sullivan, “illegal aliens from Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco, Uganda, and India were released without bond. They are now at large in the U.S.”
What happened is that as the intelligence bill crystallized, a fear developed that it might be construed as xenophobic. Somewhere along the line the word came down from the White House that for the president to be able to sign the bill, it had to be plucked clean of any suggestion that an illegal Muslim fundamentalist should be treated at all differently from an illegal Christian evangelist. Remember the odd deportment of Norman Mineta, who has been reappointed as Transportation secretary? He went to extraordinary lengths several years ago to insist that security personnel at airports should pay no greater attention to 30-year-old Near Eastern Muslims called Mohammed than they would to Shirley Temple.
The immigration problem is the primary unmet challenge of modern times. It is so because the whole of our political establishment cringes at any suggestion that the United States is inhospitable to immigration. We do have laws on the books, but they are apparently made for the sole purpose of flouting them. Time magazine published the most florid essay on the question, estimating the annual flow of illegal immigration at over two million persons.
There are two questions on the table. The first deals with raw immigration: How many people beyond those formally welcome under existing laws should we admit into the United States? The second, what are the risks to security in being as offhanded as we have been?
In the age of terrorism, it is obvious that the enemy will seek to do damage operating within U.S. territory. That, of course, was the story of the 9/11 hijackers, 19 Muslim terrorists who took advantage of loose laws to practice flying accurately into U.S. skyscrapers.
But the movements of such folk are not of primary concern to the U.S. Government, to judge from the record. Mr. O’Sullivan reports that the Transportation Department has launched several lawsuits against airlines because pilots had banned passengers they thought were security risks.
Asa Hutchinson, an official in the Department of Homeland Security, recently cut down a Border Patrol initiative to catch illegal aliens. The reason? It was catching too many illegal aliens.
We have the piquant problem of what to do with illegals. It approaches the problem of what to do with drinkers during Prohibition. You couldn’t put them all in jail because there weren’t enough jails. Illegals remain largely undisturbed, and the main reason for it isn’t U.S. sentimentality toward aspirant Americans. It is the market contribution to the dilemma: There are jobs only illegals are willing to perform, e.g. serving as nannies for Bernard Kerik. Much of the menial and agricultural work done in the southwestern states is done by illegals.
The result of the combined forces — the need for cheap labor, and the passion to avoid any appearance of ethnic or religious discrimination — is an open frontier. Yes, a few illegals are deported. These should get a parade, signaling such distinction as attaches to the infrequency of their apprehension. And perhaps a parade when they come through the next time, often through the same gap in the southwestern frontier.
A subsidiary but not uninteresting question is: Where do our deportees gather? What help is available to them to reassemble? Perhaps to return to Arizona in time for high school reunions?
It’s a tough one politically, but Congress should bear down on the subject, intimately related to concerns for homeland security.