- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

There’s confusion in Washington about immigration. President Bush added to it Tuesday when he vowed “to return every single illegal entrant, with no exceptions.” We’re mildly encouraged by the appearance of the administration’s change of heart on immigration control, and we hope it’s more than mere appearance. There remains the issue of the president’s “temporary” worker program, which would enable illegal aliens to work in this country legally for six years.

On the one hand, supporters of that program insist, as the president did Tuesday, that the number of illegal aliens already here have reached critical mass. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff echoed the president at a Senate hearing Tuesday, saying what is obvious to everyone, that “illegal immigration threatens our communities and national security.” Securing our borders from illegal entrants — whether cheap laborer or slithering terrorist — should be everybody’s chief concern.

On the other hand, we’re told that in addition to increased border patrol and interior security for catching illegals, we must deal with illegals who are here only to work, hence the worker program. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao described it this way: “We would ask [illegal aliens] to sign up with a temporary-worker program for three years. They can extend for another three years for a total of six years and at which point we would ask that they return to their homes.” We presume the government would ask ever so nicely. Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the panel that “there’s nothing as permanent as a ‘temporary’ worker.” We’re skeptical, and we’ll remain skeptical until we hear persuasive details.

In addition to the 1986 amnesty law, Mr. Krikorian reminded the committee, a “guest/temporary” worker program was tried during World War II to relieve the scarcity of native farm labor. Begun in 1942, the Bracero Program, as it was called, lasted for 22 years because farmers became addicted to the cheap labor. More importantly, illegal “immigration” ballooned during those 22 years for the same reasons illegal immigration is ballooning today: Illegal aliens generally flock to places where they have family. How can the government encourage a “temporary” worker to return home if that worker has children here, children born as American citizens? The answer is that it can’t. We can’t have an effective immigration policy that rewards illegal “immigrants.”

Perhaps this is why Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has said that he will tackle immigration control and security first before debating any guest/temporary worker bill. Separating the two distinct problems will clarify priorities, as well as address the very real concerns of the American public over the flood of illegals inundating our borders.

When supporters of amnesty conflate these two issues, such as the free-market Manhattan Institute did in a recent poll, we naturally get poll numbers supporting amnesty. In this poll, 58 percent of “likely” Republicans support a legalization plan and 33 percent favor tightening border security and deporting illegal immigrants. In his letter to the editor, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher rightly scrutinizes this question as a “false choice.” More impressively, 72 percent favor immigration reform that would create a path to citizenship. But asked which of the included reforms is most persuasive, 32 percent said “increased border security” and 17 percent said “tougher penalties” on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Of those opposed to reform, 32 percent said “path to citizenship” was most persuasive, and 25 percent said “temporary work visa.”

Congress can debate what to do with the illegal work force in due time. For now, Congress must understand that trying to attach an amnesty proposal onto an enforcement plan would turn the country’s immigration wake-up call into a nightmare. If Mr. Frist and other congressional leaders can put together legislation that secures our borders and answers the question of what to do with illegals once they’re here, then hail to the Hill. But nobody has done that yet, and confusion reigns from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.

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