- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The collapsing “consensus” on immigration is bad news for George W., but maybe not necessarily bad news for the 12 million illegal aliens hiding in plain sight among us.

Amnesty, by whatever name the White House and the Senate contrive to call it, looks dead, dead, dead. But once the Senate version, already a little fragrant in the noonday sun, gets its unceremonial burial, everyone can get down to finding an authentic consensus.

A letter urging the president to abandon the Senate legislation and take up the House immigration bill instead was delivered yesterday to the White House with 39 prominent conservative names on it. Most were merely pundits, but some had an earlier life with weight as well as wisdom. These include William J. Bennett, the secretary of education in the Reagan administration and the drug czar under the first President Bush; Robert H. Bork, who never made it to the Supreme Court but achieved more lasting fame as an entry in the dictionary (bork, v.t.., to defeat with misrepresentation and malice); Phyllis Schlafly, who overcame procedural chicanery to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment almost by herself; and Ward Connerly, whose Proposition 209 shut down officially sanctioned racial and sexual discrimination in California. The worthies who signed the letter to the president know a thing or two about challenging misrepresentation in the name of doing bad disguised as good.

“Border and interior enforcement must be funded, operational, implemented and proven successful,” they said, “and only then can we debate the status of current illegal immigrants or the need for new guest-worker programs.”

The logic of this approach seems to escape everyone in a certain Washington ZIP code, but almost nobody everywhere else: Close the border, provide orderly immigration, and other things might then be possible. The president no doubt thinks it’s a bit harsh that nobody wants to take his word that he means it when he says he’s for ending the hell on the border. But he’s in the sixth year of his presidency and is only now showing interest in border security. Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary of homeland security, was sacked, more or less, for saying what everybody knew, that there was “no will” for securing the southern border and Asa had to go home to Arkansas to run for governor. Trust, but verify, as Ronald Reagan told us.

There’s no provision in the Senate bill to penalize employers of illegal aliens, and a lot of Americans are emphatically convinced that putting employers on the honor system is a fool’s errand. The number of prosecuted illegal employers declined from 182 in 1999, at the tail end of the Clinton years, to only four in 2003. The number of illegal employers who paid fines declined from 417 in 1999 to only four in 2004. Trust, the Gipper warned us, but verify.

This timid approach to enforcing immigration law is not mere coincidence. The feds, who have no trouble collecting hated taxes or enforcing unpopular environmental law, have nevertheless retreated steadily from enforcing the law against illegal aliens. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have yielded to pressure from employers who demand a steady supply of easily exploited, easily abused illegals. The recent rash of raids on hapless illegals has not persuaded very many Americans, pro- or anti-, that the raiding is anything more than a guise to soften opinion as the Senate and House get down to reconciling their immigration bills.

But there may be no reconciliation. Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House and the leader of the Republican majority, has signaled that he wants no part of a compromise that is not a compromise. The Senate — and the White House — have defined “compromise” as doing it their way.

The election of Brian Bilbray to succeed Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham in San Diego frightened the Republicans in the House into doing the right thing whether they like it or not. Mr. Bilbray campaigned as if he were a Democrat running against the Republican president. Shunned by John McCain as well for his tough stance on illegal immigration, Mr. Bilbray arrived in Washington with the message that getting tough on enforcing the law was all that saved the seat for the president’s party. And that’s the good news, such as it may be, for the 12 million squatters among us.

Pruden on Politics runs on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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