I used to live across the street from a wonderful Dutch family. The father was an economist at the World Bank, the mother a linguist for some government agency, and their two daughters honor students at the local high school. They're probably back in Holland because -- as the father explained to me -- his years-long employee visa was expiring and he was told he'd have to move his family back to Holland before he could reapply for permanent resident status leading to citizenship. And there was a long wait because the quotas for Dutch immigrants were filled years in advance. I think of him every time I hear about the millions of illegal immigrants in this country. And so should every member of the Senate as they take up that subject this week.
Why is it so hard for politicians to understand that the differences between legal and illegal immigration have to be real and carry real consequences for those who break our law? Will they listen more to the half-million or so illegals and their sympathizers who demonstrated in Los Angeles Saturday against tougher laws? Will they listen to the president who has been fishing for votes in the Rio Grande ever since he began his first presidential campaign? More likely, the Democrats will fight -- as Harry Reid promised they would -- against any measure that will punish illegals or make it tougher for them to stay once they're in the country. The Democrats' position is easier to understand than the president's.
In the two decades before 9-11, the American welfare state was shrinking dramatically. The confluence of reduced job discrimination in the work place, the booming economy and the shift to service industries reduced the dependency of minorities on government welfare and with it the Democratic voter base. Voters with jobs, paying taxes and supporting families, aren't interested in increasing taxes to pay others not to work. The Democrats' answer, of course, wasn't to help Americans take greater advantage of our economic boom. The Dems want to make it easier for people who aren't citizens to become them, to be eligible for government aid and for felons who were deprived of the franchise to get it back. By repopulating the welfare state with illegal immigrants and re-enfranchised felons the Dems seek to restore their Great Society glory days and shackle us to the oars of the welfare state galleys. It's much harder to understand Republicans' fecklessness about the issue.
The costs of illegal immigration are staggering. Dozens of hospitals in California and Texas may close because the unpaid burden of providing care for illegals is enormous. School budgets are routinely destroyed by the cost of educating illegals. And the crime committed by illegals -- though the cost of keeping someone behind bars remains less than the statutory Congressional salary -- is forcing states to spend tens of millions to keep those who commit crimes off our streets. And it's not only California and Texas that suffer these costs. States from Iowa to South Carolina are feeling the same pinch.
Businesses who benefit from illegal immigrant employees argue that the benefit to our economy far outweighs the cost. But there is no data to support that claim, and any number of studies to show the cost to taxpayers is in the tens of billions every year.
PRESIDENT BUSH, LONG AN ADVOCATE of a "guest worker" program, insists that we shouldn't grant illegal immigrants amnesty and put them on the path to citizenship. Yes, but. A guest worker program assumes the existence of a huge bureaucracy that is capable of tracking illegals, and regulating and enforcing the program's limits. It assumes that those illegals who don't participate in the program will be caught and punished, probably with expulsion, to wherever they came from. But in a nation whose Department of Homeland Security can't seem to even get a grip on controlling the borders, how can we have any faith that will happen? In truth, we can't. And there's the rub. It gets worse when we talk about making illegal immigrants into felons.
Making illegal immigration a felony appeals to the emotions, not the brains. What does it mean? It means that people who are caught will spend time in prison, their cases clogging our already-overburdened federal courts, costing enormous sums. There are roughly ten to twelve million illegal immigrants here now. During 2004, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, federal courts disposed of over 90,000 criminal cases and still had that number pending at the end of the year. At that rate, if the courts dealt with the eleven million felonious illegal immigrants -- assuming that we let every other crime go unpunished, and are 100 percent successful in stopping more illegals from coming in -- it will take only 122 years to take the illegals to trial. In short, it's a fool's errand (also known as a politician's election-year ploy) even to talk about this.
If we are going to do something about illegal immigration, we should start with a dose of reality. Unless we are prepared to spend what it will take to create a huge separate criminal justice system for the illegal aliens, we're not going to make this country an unattractive destination for those who wish to escape the ratholes of the world. And unless we want to make this nation an impossible place to do business in, let's not talk about putting the monkey on the back of business. At least not the whole monkey.
Employers who hire illegals should absorb the costs those employees impose on the states and localities. If your work force is comprised of illegals -- whether they are temporary employees or not -- you should have to withhold state and local taxes from their pay as you would for your American employees. This would offset the costs these employees pass on to the local schools and prisons. Medical care is another matter, and paying health care insurance for temporary illegal employees won't be possible without overburdening employers with paper work. Another means will have to be found.
No part of this question is as important as border security. While the vast majority of illegal immigrants aren't a terrorism problem, some undoubtedly are, and far more commit crimes. And the solution to this is not to turn the problem over to the Defense Department. They have quite enough to do. It's something the Department of Homeland Security needs to solve, and solve forthwith. The only realistic way to do it is to build a barrier to immigrants crossing from Mexico. A barrier, not just a fence, and patrol it every hour of every day. And any illegal alien caught on either side of the border should be expelled immediately, no questions asked.
WHILE THE SENATE DEBATES, this week is also Spring Break for the Three Amigos. The president will travel to Cancun for a reprise of the Three Amigos Summit, meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and new Canadian PM Stephen Harper. When this farce was last played, Messrs. Bush and Fox, with Harper's predecessor (the thoroughly annoying Paul Martin), engaged in a lot of self-congratulation about their mutual cooperation. And nothing, absolutely nothing, was done to pressure Fox to stop the flow of illegals from his nation. In the time since that meeting, it's probable that another half million illegals came in from Mexico. Like a Frenchman, Fox is most vulnerable in his pride. This time Mr. Bush should do what he has always resisted doing: pressure Mexico in the harshest terms to end its support for illegal immigration and start cooperating with our border forces.
Public criticism should be the order of the day, not buddying around with a source of a grave national problem. You're doing a lousy job, Foxy. And think about that California fence. It'll be cheaper for us to build one all across Texas, Arizona and New Mexico than to keep absorbing your people. Good fences make good neighbors. We need to start building one right now.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).