Tuesday, November 29, 2005

President Bush was in Arizona and Texas this week once again promoting his guest-worker program for illegal aliens — or amnesty for short. The good news is that the president is no longer ignoring the millions of Americans who are primarily concerned with the nation’s broken borders and unenforced immigration laws. The test now is that the president’s tough rhetoric is matched with concrete details.

Unfortunately, we have yet to be convinced that the president’s position is more than what one Republican close to the White House described to Time magazine as a “rhetorical pound of flesh,” designed to silence conservatives angry over this guest-worker nonsense. Simply adding 1,000 Border Patrol agents doesn’t come close to satisfactory. If the president is seriously committed to securing our borders, he must not just attend to the numbers on the borders, but also eliminate the reasons illegals risk their lives to come here.

Toward that end, no border-security plan is credible if it does not include severe employer sanctions for businesses that hire illegals. Employers must be just as nervous about hiring illegals as illegals should be to work for them. The president must also come out strongly against welfare benefits for illegals, which currently dwarf anything they can hope to get from the Mexican government. It is unfair to ask Border Patrol agents to risk their own lives when Congress and the president refuse to do anything to curtail the rewards that lure illegals into the United States.

It is equally unfair not to give agents the tools and manpower needed to beat back the onslaught. This includes at least a five-figure increase in Border Patrol agents; massive investment in aerial reconnaissance and sensory technology; and, where necessary, the building of deterrence structures like fences and walls.

As these broad measures indicate, securing the border would require a massive increase in funding as well as the determined will of the administration and congressional Republicans. Yet even if the will and money were there, we remain unconvinced that a “comprehensive” reform package that includes both border security and a guest-worker program, as the president proposes, is the appropriate course.

Two things are clear, however: The only guest-worker program we would not consider amnesty is one for those not already in the country; and a guest-worker bill without proper border-security provisions is a nonstarter.

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