The Corner

Re: WSJ v. NRO

Some thoughts on this WSJ feature that Ramesh outlined earlier.

I really like the WSJ’s editorial page — I don’t know what we’d do without them. But they have a nasty, condescending streak when they get on their high horse, as they do with their signature position on immigration.

I’m glad they find this issue so easy. For me, it’s excruciating.

How can as smart a guy as Paul Gigot say something as stupid as that we wing-nuts at NR want to “harass” businesses as part of our “enforcement first agenda”? The WSJ cares a lot more about business than I do. I’d like to see the law followed by everyone, but I don’t have an agenda related to business other than, I suppose, that I’d like to see some honesty from the pro-business lobby — I’d like to hear them acknowledge that they want illegal workers because it is a way around paying the prohibitive wages they’d have to pay Americans to do the same jobs (even as business rolls over and plays dead while another economically irrational raising of the minimum wage is enacted).

But here’s what really fries me. I don’t want to kick the illegals out of the country. I’m not a restrictionist; I believe, if thoughtfully regulated, immigration is good for the United States. I prefer legal immigration, but you’d have to be an idiot not to concede that a substantial portion of the illegal population is comprised of good, hard-working people — the kind we’d love to have here legitimately.

I also happen to think DHS Sec’y Mike Chertoff is one of the brightest, ablest guys I’ve ever met; he’s as committed as anyone to fighting terrorists and other bad guys. I have the same feeling about Senator Kyl. These are died in the wool national security guys. If they say they think we need legalization because we need to know who is in the country and that that can only realistically be done with some kind of legalization process, that, to me, is a serious argument for legalization. (Although, I must say, it’s long been important to know who is in the country, so I’d love to know why the illegal population has been allowed to explode, rather than being scrutinized and reduced, since 9/11.)

As a human being, I want to support legalization, even though everything in my experience tells me it is always a mistake to reward illegal behavior, and the equities tell me that (a) the illegals have chosen to be illegal so it’s not unfair to make them live with that choice, and (b) legalization would be a slap in the face to the people who have respected our laws and tried to immigrate lawfully.

Despite those two weighty considerations, I think I could swallow hard and go along. Except for one thing: I don’t believe the government is serious about enforcement. I’ve been in government, so I don’t doubt their good faith — I don’t doubt that they really hope and intend to do a better job. I just won’t believe they’ll follow through for any sustained amount of time until they actually do.

After decades of laxity, you don’t get to tell me you’re now serious based on what seems like 10 minutes of stepped up enforcement, with promises of a few hundred miles of fence and some additional border agents thrown in for good measure. You gotta prove it to me, and that’s going to take time. And remember, the people making the promises are going to be gone soon. What assurance do I have that there will be follow through on enforcement if the Democrats win in 2008? After all, they are only going along with the enforcement terms now as the necessary political price of getting the bill passed — what they want are the carrots, not the sticks, so why should I believe they’ll honor the sticks if and when enforcement becomes their responsibility?

If I thought the proposed legalization was really one time only, and that we had figured out a good way to separate the good, decent people from the terrorists, gang-bangers and assorted felons, I’d get beyond my hesitation (and probably my better judgment) to make accommodations for those millions to continue to work hard and enjoy a better life with their families — like my immigrant ancestors got to do. I’d rationalize that it was the humane thing to do even if it might not be the smartest thing to do. But I need, up front, to be confident it is not a ruinous thing to do.

That, Mr. Gigot, is why I want enforcement first. It’s not about business. It’s about being responsible when you are considering a big risk. The current 12 to 20+ million illegal alien population could easily swell to two or more times that amount if this isn’t done right. You’re then talking about a population of non-Americans the size of England or France. That’s not acceptable. If the government can prove it is serious about managing this problem — by actually managing this problem — I could go along. But I need proof, not promises.

The Latest