- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

Whose problem is the immigration bill in Congress supposed to solve? The country’s problem with dangerously porous borders? The illegal immigrants’ problem? Or politicians’ problems?

It has been painfully clear for years that the country’s problem with insecure borders and floods of foreigners who remain a foreign — and growing — part of the American population has the lowest priority of the three. Virtually every step — even token steps — that Congress and the administration have taken toward securing the border has been backed into under pressure from the voters.

The National Guardsmen who were sent to the border but not assigned to guard the border, the 700-mile fence on paper that has become the 2-mile fence in practice, and the existing “tough” penalties for the crime of crossing the border illegally that in practice mean turning the illegal border crossers loose so that they can try, try again — such actions speak louder than words.

The new immigration bill that supposedly secures the borders first, before starting to legalize the illegal immigrants, in fact does nothing of the sort.

It sets up various programs and procedures — but does not wait to see if they reduce the illegal immigrant flow before taking the irrevocable step of making U.S. citizenship available to 12 million people who came here illegally. This solves the problem of illegal immigrants who want citizenship. The “tough” steps they have to go through allow politicians to say this is not amnesty.

But, whether these requirements are “tough” or not, and regardless of how they are enforced or not, there is nothing to say the 12 million illegals here have to start the process of becoming citizens. Those who do not choose to become citizens — which may well be the majority — face no more prospect of being punished for the crime of entering illegally than they do now. With the focus shifted to getting citizenship, illegal immigrants who just want to stay and make some money without bothering to become part of American society can be forgotten, along with their crime.

This bill gets the issue off the table and out of the political spotlight. That solves the problem of politicians who want to mollify American voters in general without risking the loss of the Hispanic vote.

The Hispanic vote can be expected to become larger and larger as the new de facto amnesty can be expected to increase the number of illegal border crossers, just as the previous — and honestly labeled — amnesty bill of 1986 led to a quadrupling of the number of illegals. The larger the Hispanic vote becomes, the less seriously are the restrictive features of the immigration bill likely to be enforced.

The growth of the illegal population is irreversible but the means of controlling the growth of illegals are quite reversible, both de facto through watering down the enforcement of “tough” requirements and de jure through later repeals of requirements deemed too “tough.”

One remarkable aspect of the proposed immigration “reform” is its provisions for cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Employers are to be punished for not detecting and excluding illegal immigrants, when the government itself is derelict in doing so. Employers not only lack expertise in law enforcement, they can be sued for “discrimination” by any of the armies of lawyers who make such lawsuits their lucrative specialty.

But no penalties are likely to be enforced against state and local politicians who openly declare “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. Officials sworn to uphold the law instead forbid the police to report the illegal status of immigrants to federal officials when these illegals are arrested for other crimes.

This is perfectly consistent for a bill that seeks above all to solve politicians’ problems, not the country’s.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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