Head For the Hills

From my perch high atop our nation’s capital, I can feel the December winds ushering in another winter – and I can see the sun beginning to set on illegal immigrants across America.

I became fully convinced of this trend during stays in the Midwest and Pennsylvania last week, where illegal immigration is a buzz-term plastered all over billboards, commercials and editorial pages. Local and state campaigns are becoming increasingly focused on illegal immigration issues as well. The heated battle for governor of Virginia focused on the creation of day-laborer centers (which are illegal alien chic) in the state. A December runoff election in California for a U.S. House seat includes an Independent immigration-reform candidate threatening the leading Democrat.

The threats that illegal immigration poses to America – to our culture, health, budget and security – have been broadcast for years through various media avenues, and recently in this column. Only lately, though – thanks largely to the undeniable outrage of many Americans – are legislators on all levels of government beginning to address them via immigration reform. As the Congressional midterm election year approaches, illegal immigration has become a central political issue in America.

There are several schools of thought on how to “reform” immigration, each with the ultimate goal of reducing the burden of illegal aliens in America. Several pending bills (including separate legislation sponsored by Senators McCain and Kennedy, Senators Cornyn and Kyl and Representative Tancredo) focus on some kind of “guest-worker” system, operating under the assumption that immigrants will work here for an allotted period of time and then return to their home countries. In reality, though, there is no such thing as a temporary guest worker, especially with the currently dismal enforcement of our immigration.

In evaluating strategy to reduce illegal immigration, the bottom line – the Krummey Truth – is that serious incentive must be created for would-be illegal immigrants to exercise the personal responsibility to become legal citizens. Many immigrants today and throughout history have gone to great lengths to become legal American citizens. Why do others purposefully shirk this responsibility? The answer is, quite simply, because they can. They know it’s possible to reside and work in America without abiding by immigration laws.

The best way to alter this mindset is to convince those who wish to cross our borders that they will not be able to stay and prosper without becoming citizens; this can be done only by punishing the actions of illegal aliens. Realistically, I think an atmosphere of legal incentive can be achieved through a variety of incremental, fully-funded and supported changes to current immigration policy.

The first step to this end is to increase efficiency of identification and deportation of illegal aliens. It is simply too easy to enter the country, live here, find a job, vote, have children, obtain healthcare, drive and be arrested without being questioned about one’s legal status. Government officials – law enforcement included – must be able to report and deport illegal immigrants whom they encounter. I know this is not the designed role of American law enforcement officials, who are already over-worked and under-funded, but illegal aliens are not all hiding in a van down by the river – they are participating comfortably in nearly all facets of daily American life.

It is only logical, then, that when officials encounter illegal aliens – driving illegally, hiring, approaching security checkpoints, entering state and federal facilities, receiving healthcare, voting – they should have to present identification. And there must be a legitimate possibility that they will be arrested or reported to proper authorities. This concern has been addressed with the passage of the REAL ID Act this year, which will require identification of all citizens and legal residents by May 2008. Although this bill is not all-encompassing, and in some ways infringes upon personal liberties, it is a necessary step towards inducing personal incentive to obtain legal status in America.

Another important component of enforcing immigration laws is the security of our borders. Tighter border security would require a significant increase in border patrol agents, holding facilities and systems of deportation – there is just no way around it. This seems to be, at least rhetorically, agreed upon by legislators, who are throwing around ideas of electronic monitoring systems and fencing along heavily traveled stretches of border. All of this is plausible, but I hope that legislators do not overlook the power of human presence on the border. As the grassroots Minuteman Project has shown, this is perhaps the cheapest and most effective form of border monitoring.

Together, these enforcement measures would be a huge step forward in reducing illegal alien presence in America by making illegal aliens uncomfortable enough to take personal responsibility and become legal residents. Fortunately, much of the focus on immigration reform in Congress and the White House has shifted from guest-worker programs to increased enforcement measures. This is a welcome change – and one that certainly reflects the American outcry to resolve this problem.

President Bush, after meeting with border patrol in Arizona Monday, vowed to “secure the border by catching those who enter illegally, and hardening the border to prevent illegal crossings.”

Bravo, Mr. President. Here’s to hoping.