Although pushed to the back burner by the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the illegal immigration issue is not going away. The Arizona legislature's tough anti-illegal immigrant bill was signed into law in April by Gov. Jan Brewer, triggering a firestorm of both criticism and applause across the country.
As written and signed, the law appears to be on safe Constitutional ground in that it penalizes only that which is already a federal crime. Contrary to the caterwauling of the most vociferous opponents, it does not give law enforcement officers carte blanche to stop suspects on suspicion of illegal status but rather for probable cause for unrelated offenses. As it is routine for an officer to ask for identification of individuals so halted, a failure to produce some may lead to asking for proof of citizenship.
In any statute, there is opportunity for misapplication of the law to circumvent its intent. Nevertheless, the automatic assumption that the Arizona police will use it as a mandate for racial profiling is neither fair nor helpful. Equally inappropriate was the knee-jerk condemnation of Arizona by the administration's leading law enforcement officers, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano — both of whom were forced to admit having never read the statute.
It is not yet apparent who will be the political winners and losers in this tag team brawl — the only certainty being that the present unseemly and stentorian rhetoric coming fron from both sides has accomplished nothing other than exacerbating the divide. Yes, illegal immigration is a serious dilemma; however, it is neither new nor one which will solve itself. There is but one viable solution — adults must emerge as Democratic and Republican Party leaders and engineer the serious compromises to fix that which is broken.
In 2006, President George W. Bush proposed and supported a rational guest worker program, a logical beginning to negotiate and compromise for meaningful legislation. This effort to satisfy federal responsibility in immigration control was sabotaged by a coalition of unlikely bedfellows — radio talk show hosts who galvanized an audience to protest "amnesty" to their legislators and those allied with organized labor who forced gutting the guest worker provisions. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lost interest in the bill *the next year and pulled the measure prematurely.
It should be obvious to anyone whose IQ is at or near room temperature that the Democrats are playing to the Hispanic vote and the Republicans are courting the anti-amnesty crowd. It should also be abundantly clear that kicking this worn-out political football is counterproductive– to the point of being childish. The notion of a magic potion eradicating the ills of a hundred plus years of benign neglect is almost as silly as the belief that angry posturing and assigning blame will somehow end the oil spill in the Gulf.
Even the most vociferous advocates have grasped the utter folly of the logistic and operational impossibility of rounding up the 12 million or more undocumented immigrants and sending them home. Not only are many firmly established in the business community and in the labor force, but hundreds of thousands arrived here as children and have no other place to call home. If anything fits the category of "too hard," mass deportation is on that skyline.
"Secure the border" is the solution echoed by many and encouraged by the conservative talk show hosts. A secure border is an admirable aim, but not one of these vocal advocates has the slightest notion of what is required in funding, manpower, material and electronic surveillance to achieve that goal. Historical precedents range from the Cold War watch towers, anti-personnel mines, barbed wire and armed sentries of East Germany to the Great Wall of China and our own recent Secure Border Initiative, which has cost nearly a billion dollars with little to show for this pilot system.
The United States will never adopt the East German model for obvious reasons, nor is erection of a border fence a viable option. The projected cost in billions of taxpayer dollars, the years required to complete the barrier and the manpower requirements to secure this barricade are prohibitive — a fence is only as effective as the human surveillance so provided.
If Congress has failed its responsibility in immigration control is no longer a question. Republicans and democrats alike are culpable in the failure to address immigration reform to a logical conclusion in 2006 — those four years lost can neither be retrieved nor pardoned. Control of the borders and who comes and goes is neither a democrat or republican problem, it is a national issue to be solved by the federal government.
Do we have the legislative and executive leadership to ignore the irrational rhetoric of the far right, the shameless pandering for votes of the left, the veiled threats of labor or of other special interests to correct the political negligence and expedience that has prolonged this situation? Or must we purge the incumbents to find those with the moral courage to make it right?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.