- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

Of all the insults to our intelligence in the current discussions of immigration legislation, the biggest insult is the claim border control legislation and legislation on the illegal immigrants already in the country must go together.

Why? What will happen if they are done separately? Who will be worse off?

The claim that the two pieces of legislation must be passed at the same time has been repeated endlessly. But endless repetition is not a coherent argument.

At the heart of this issue is the question whether Congress and the Bush administration are serious about controlling the borders and about letting the number and kind of immigrants allowed into this country be decided in the United States, not in Mexico.

Whatever number and kind of immigrants the U.S. wants to admit, that decision means nothing unless it is enforced at the borders. Nor is there any way to know in advance how effective any particular method of border control will be in practice.

The only way to know whether fences, National Guardsmen or anything else will work is to wait and see before issuing blanket amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, virtually guaranteeing millions more will follow, as in the past.

A congressional package deal is not about border control. It is about trying to get the Hispanic vote without losing the votes of other Americans. It is about allowing politicians to vote on both sides of this issue to cover themselves politically.

Once such legislation passes, the guarantee to illegals is immediate and its consequences permanent for them and for successive generations of their offspring. But what actually happens at the border is left up in the air.

It may be significant that, with all the talk about the preconditions for illegal immigrants to get U.S. citizenship, nothing has been said about one of the easiest ways of getting U.S. citizenship, without having to learn English or do anything else. Pregnant women from Mexico simply walk across the border and have their babies in American hospitals. This creates an instant American citizen who cannot be deported and whose family members would be hard to deport.

Those who claim to want to “control the borders” with this package-deal legislation don’t even talk about this, much less try to do anything about it.

Let’s return to what would happen if border control legislation were voted on separately from amnesty legislation, instead of in the current package deal.

First of all, we would find out who is serious about border control, especially if the question of amnesty (by whatever name) is postponed for some definite time, in order to first see what happens at the border before taking that irrevocable step.

Who would lose anything by this separate consideration of the two pieces of legislation? The country would lose nothing. Neither would the illegal aliens already in the country.

The biggest losers would be politicians. They could no longer be on both sides of the issue by voting for a package deal but would have to stand up and be counted on border control. Some say the Democrats would filibuster a bill that offered border control separately. Fine. Let them. Let them show their true colors in an election year and then face the voters in the fall.

Of course, those Republicans who are either weak-kneed or who share the Democrats’ views would also lose the political cover of being able to vote on both sides of the immigration issue.

But the country would be better off not to commit itself to guaranteeing the permanence of millions of illegal aliens and all their descendants thereafter without getting anything more than pious hopes about controlling the border.

As for not being able to pass immigration legislation separately, that claim has already been refuted by those who made it. The Senate has just passed a bill allowing illegal aliens to collect Social Security, even if they were hired with forged or stolen Social Security cards.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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