Amnesty Revisited

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

I was disappointed by the president’s tone more than the specifics of his proposals. Once again, he proves true to character: politicizing the issue, citing straw men, and then accusing those with whom he disagrees of political demagoguery.

In truth, the political situation is this: A president who once demonized his election-time opponents by advising Latinos to “punish” their “enemies,” and who for 27 months ignored grandiose campaign promises of immigration “reform” due to political reality, now suddenly turns to immigration as (a) re-election looms and he desperately needs the Latino vote, and (b) he has a bounce from the killing of bin Laden. And so he demonizes opponents and issues calls for the audience to go to the White House website to rally political support for his plan.

And, of course, we then get the usual straw men (“they”) so characteristic of Obama’s rhetoric. “So we’ve seen a lot of blame and politics and ugly rhetoric.” And, “They wanted a fence. Well, that fence is now basically complete.” And, “I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform.” And this: “Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.” And this: “They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.”

In truth, nearly 70 percent of Americans, including millions of Mexican Americans, want the border fenced because it is still in large part currently porous and open, and we are in a time of high unemployment, rising drug violence spilling in from Mexico, a tottering Mexican government, and weariness with an identity politics that seeks to equate enforcing federal law and opposing blanket amnesty with racism. And note that Obama did not, as he claims here, “basically complete” (note that key word “basically”) the fence, but stopped it. In fact, as of May 1, 2011, about 650 miles of the 1,900-mile border are fenced.

Otherwise, some of Obama’s proposals make sense, but he doesn’t say how he would implement those that do. For example, to say, “They have to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. And they have to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization” means what?

Where exactly are illegal immigrants to be processed — here, or in Mexico? What happens if they do not learn English or pay taxes or pay a fine or have a background check? Summary deportation? Are we suddenly going to begin detaining illegal aliens, repeal current sanctuary laws, compel cities to enforce federal law, and then do what — as we check their criminal records, examine whether they paid their fines, and quiz them on English?

The suspicion among “some,” to use the president’s words, is that he will push things like amnesty, which is what the euphemistic “DREAM Act” is, talk grandly about paying fines, learning English, and sending home those who don’t pass “background checks” (felonies, misdemeanors, etc.?), but then never follow up on the enforcement part.

Finally, the president is right in the following: “And fourth, stopping illegal immigration also depends on reforming our outdated system of legal immigration. We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to not only study here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here. In recent years, a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the US were founded by immigrants, leading to more than 200,000 jobs in America. I’m glad those jobs are here. And I want to see more of them created in this country.”

But again, there is a sleight of hand. Immigration is not infinite; does the president mean that we should begin predicating legal immigration on skill sets and education and not just on border proximity and family relations — which is precisely what one would infer from a fair reading of the president’s entire speech and his emphasis on the issue in Hispanic terms? Is one Ph.D. from India or South Korea to mean one fewer cousin of a US national without skills and with a high-school diploma from Oaxaca?

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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