The Corner

This Blessed Plot, This Other Eden

Ah, this redoubtable Corner. In almost any other venue—a newspaper, for example, or a magazine—I’d feel that I’d have to have all my arguments lined up like trained soldiers before writing a word. But here? The asking of questions, the stating of conclusions that are only tentative—all are perfectly welcome, and I know that because K-Lo has told me so.

On immigration, I began with the premise (see below) that the 10 or 12 million illegal immigrants in this country are here to stay. Although just 48 hours ago I considered this premise self-evident, Derb and Ramesh have both made me question it. We needn’t engage in mass deportations to reduce the number of illegal immigrants, they argue, but instead need only to begin enforcing immigration law on, so to speak, the margins. As Derb put it, the highway patrol tickets only a few speeders yet chastens everyone on the road. A critical point, right and true. Begin even a half-hearted enforcement of the immigration laws already on the books—and the number of illegals will drop.

Andrew and the emails I’ve been receiving from readers have likewise affected my thinking. My hero, Ronald Reagan, they point out, signed a sweeping amnesty in 1986. He did so in good faith, convinced that he was Solving the Problem. But because the federal government made no serious effort afterwards to gain control of the borders, instead of solving the problem the Gipper’s amnesty encouraged still more illegal immigration. And now, just a generation later, Bush is proposing, in effect, to repeat this mistake. If Bush does so, then whoever is president a generation from now may find himself forced to grant an amnesty not to 10 or 12 million illegals but to three times that number.

I still doubt the feasibility of shipping back any large portion—half, two-thirds—of the illegal immigrants who are already here. But whereas President Bush’s proposal seems a reasonable enough attempt to deal with the millions of illegals among us, The Corner has now persuaded me that the proposal makes no sense—none—in the absence of a wider effort. It still comes down to enforcing the law. After granting an amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Mr. President, just how do you intend to prevent millions more from pouring in?