I have been writing recently on these pages about immigration to the United States, and the need for the government to begin doing something meaningful and practical about the issue. I have said that there is a strong consensus in the country for this that crosses party and ideological lines. I disagreed with critics of current efforts to enact an omnibus bill to do this. I said they had indulged in demagoguery about "amnesty," and that they were not proposing any workable alternatives. Now one of those critics, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, has come up with a 10-point program to replace the omnibus immigration bill, which he labels "dangerous" and unworkable, even in its revived state of consideration.
I must say that Mr. Gingrich's case is very compelling. He continues to be the smartest public-policy politician in either party in America, and this proposal only demonstrates why this is so. First of all, Mr. Gingrich has curbed use of the word "amnesty." He says that an omnibus bill is unnecessary. Mr. Gingrich cites the government's inability to get the job done under the past four presidents, and most persuasively he contends that any omnibus bill will be so complicated, and will create so much additional bureaucracy, that it is unlikely to bring illegal immigration under control.
I think the true priorities on this issue, and for which the consensus exists, are the following: 1. Effectively seal our borders, especially with Mexico. 2. Require reliable and quick identification of all who work in our country, particularly those who are not citizens. 3. Promptly deport the relatively small number of illegal aliens who are engaging in criminal or otherwise improper activities in the United States. 4. Find a reasonable way, instead of mass deportation, to bring currently illegal aliens into some form of legal status with the possibility of becoming citizens. Mr. Gingrich's proposal does all of this and much more.
First, he proposes that, instead of draftingan unmanageable new immigration law, we should recommit ourselves to keeping the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli bill, and add to it a "narrowly written" emergency border bill. This will result in the authorized border fence with Mexico being completed within one year and complete border control being put into effect within two years.
Second, Mr. Gingrich proposes that the Internal Revenue Service audit those companies that are deliberately and repeatedly hiring illegal aliens. He suggests that, rather than focusing on illegals who are trying to work, we should concentrate on those who knowingly hire them, and make the penalties so expensive that they stop hiring illegal workers. Once it is clear there are no jobs for those who come illegally, Mr. Gingrich rightly concludes they will simply stop coming in large numbers.
Third, Mr. Gingrich distinguishes between employers who know they are hiring illegal workers and those who simply have no reasonable way to know if the workers are legal or not. For the latter, a real-time verification system, outsourced to American Express, Visa or MasterCard, should be in place "to confirm the legal status of all workers and identify people with forged papers before they hire them as fast as your automatic teller machine identifies you and gives you money in a matter of seconds." This probably means some kind of biometric system that would be essentially foolproof and fast.
Fourth, Mr. Gingrich says that all federal aid should be cut off to any city, county or state that refuses to investigate whether a criminal is in the United States illegally. He cites figures showing there are 30,000 illegal-alien gang members in the United States today. There are also tens of thousands more with criminal records. Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, has proposed an amendment that would eliminate so-called "sanctuary cities" (in which city policy forbids local police from even inquiring about the immigration status of individuals they arrest) in the United States.
Significantly, Mr. Gingrich states that his purpose is not the deportation of most of the 12 million illegals now in this country.
Thus, fifth, he proposes an economically driven temporary worker program, including a special open-ended worker visa for those with specialized education, entrepreneurial talent and capital that will help the American economy.
Finally, Mr. Gingrich's proposals include declaring English the national language, and requiring that new citizens pass a test on American history in English and give up their right to vote in any other country.
Each one of these is vital to the enhanced value of American citizenship and the continued strength of American civilization. All of this, Mr. Gingrich contends, can be accomplished quickly without a huge and unworkable new omnibus immigration law that would only expand federal bureaucracy, and continue the inaction which followed the 1986 law signed by President Reagan.
Previously, I was critical of those who opposed the effort to fashion a new omnibus immigration bill because they had no detailed and workable alternative to the present impasse. Mr. Gingrich has come up with such an alternative, and I agree that it is much better than the omnibus bill. It not only satisfies the concerns of conservatives, but also the broad, majoritarian base of America's political center.
Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.