SAN DIEGO — It is always a mild irritant when I go to my bank’s ATM and have to tell it whether I want to do my transaction in English or Español. But I’ve learned to deal with it. As a result, I don’t have a knee-jerk negative reaction to every immigration reform proposal that comes along. Indeed, in these pages I recently outlined why the Bush guest-worker proposal could, if properly designed, have a very positive impact on our problems with illegal immigration.
That piece played to mixed reviews. Those opposed fell into two camps. One gentleman wrote that right is right and wrong is wrong. In his mind, it was immaterial if Bush’s proposal might help solve the problem if it didn’t deport all current illegals. That would just be wrong, so he won’t vote for Bush again for having brought it up. Instead of taking the “mass deportation or nothing” approach (which means “nothing”), these would-be Heroes of the Cause would do better choosing as their Alamo the more defensible, and more meaningful, position of Senator McCain that a guest-worker program should include a provision for a $1,500 (or so) fine to be levied on people currently working illegally in the country who want to take advantage of the legal protections provided by the program. But I’m not going to try to argue any more with that crowd, though I am curious as to whether these highly principled people have ever found anyone running for any office that they have been able to vote for.
The second camp took the position that since illegal immigration is a problem, a guest- worker program is also wrong because it is somehow synonymous with illegal immigration. The argument is that Bush’s proposal would encourage more illegal immigration as people would rush in to take advantage of the “amnesty.” You can read my reasons for skepticism in my previous piece. But this seems to be the primary argument leveled against the concept of a guest-worker program, with its proponents now claiming “evidence” to support the charge.
Fed by members of the Border Patrol’s labor union, the National Border Patrol Council, the argument that the Bush proposal was, indeed, already leading to a “surge” in illegal immigration started hitting the radio talk show airwaves here in San Diego within two weeks of his announcing it on January 7. By the end of the month, the charge was being echoed in the editorial pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune. I would have thought that most thinking people would have thought reports of this sudden “surge” a bit odd. But when they’ve got an agenda to push, some thinking people stop thinking and instead will grab on to anything that helps their position, no matter how suspect.
NUMEROUS NEWS STORIES in recent days (including a front-page story in the February 20 edition of the Washington Times entitled “More aliens try to enter for amnesty”) have continued to push this argument, again relying on information from the National Border Patrol Council. The Times leads its report as follows: “The number of illegal aliens caught crossing into the United States increased dramatically just days after President Bush proposed a guest-worker program that would give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants [if they have a regular job] now in this county, according to the union that represents the Border Patrol’s 9,000 field agents.” It goes on to say that “apprehension totals increased threefold in the San Diego area alone.” The problem with reports like these is that they are willful distortions of the truth.
I have some shocking news. The National Education Association does not exist to promote better education, and the National Border Patrol Council does not exist to solve our immigration problems. We are talking about labor unions, folks. Labor unions want to increase the number of people in their unions. The National Border Patrol Council is interested in pushing the “deport ’em all” mentality that will translate, it thinks, into the more new Border Patrol jobs. The fact that the National Border Patrol Council is so vehemently opposed to the guest worker program (“a slap in the face to anyone who has ever tried to enforce the immigration laws of the United States”), and is using underhanded tactics, is a good indication to me that the union leadership thinks that the Bush program could actually work, and hence reduce the call for big increases in Border Patrol personnel.
Now I am inclined to believe that we could use more Border Patrol agents even if we did have a successful guest-worker program. But that’s not the point. The point is that the National Border Patrol Council has been knowingly putting out false and misleading information to try to derail the Bush proposal.
AS I SAID, ALL THIS talk about a “surge” in illegal immigration didn’t make sense to me. So I looked a little further into these stories. The fact is, for a variety of reasons, including the seasonality of the agricultural industry, patterns of illegal immigration are also very seasonal. And as it happens, December has always been a very low month, and January has always been a very high month. Hence, the “surge.” If you want a true comparison, you have to look at the year-over-year monthly numbers. You can see this historical data by going to a website run by the Department of Homeland Security at .
Here are the apprehension numbers along the Mexican border:
January 2001: 125,090
January 2002: 79,793
January 2003: 86,925
January 2004: 92,634
Yes, year-over-year, there was an increase in January 2004 from January 2003. But this “surge” was in reality 6.5%. There was an increase of almost 9%, however, from January 2002 to January 2003. And we still aren’t even close to the January 2001 number. If I were as intellectually dishonest as The National Border Patrol Council, I could even argue that the Bush proposal has caused a drop in the year-over-year rate of growth of illegal immigration! But I’m not.
What about the Border Patrol “surveys” supposedly showing that “the vast majority of aliens detained along the border told arresting agents that they had come to the United States seeking amnesty”? Think about that, just for a minute. Year-over-year, January apprehensions increased 6.5%, but “the vast majority” of illegals in January ’04 were crossing encouraged by Bush’s proposal? Doesn’t that sound just a little odd? Are we to believe that if Bush had not made his proposal that instead of a 6.5% increase we would have witnessed an unprecedented drop of 50% or more?
THE FACT IS, in Mexico, the popular press has clearly reported that Bush’s guest-worker program would not be a general amnesty. Vicente Fox has had to back away from his initial lukewarm endorsement of the Bush proposal because the popular perception in Mexico is that, far from being an amnesty plan, Bush’s outlined guest-worker program does not signal a significant liberalization of U.S. immigration policy. Indeed, in Mexico the issue has revived interest in the accusations of the “Braceros” — Mexicans who took part in a similar guest-worker program in the 1940’s and 1950’s — who claim that they never received the money withheld from their paychecks that they were supposed to get when they returned home to Mexico.
Now I am willing to admit that some people may be lured to cross the border illegally thinking that Bush’s proposal is, or will lead to, a general amnesty. As I am continually reminded, some people are ill informed and irrational. But any such activity will likely be minor and, more importantly, temporary. Arguing that we should shelve a potentially helpful program on the basis that it might lead to a minor temporary increase in illegal immigration is no argument at all.