Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The massive marches organized and orchestrated by people supporting illegal immigrants have created a political problem for elected officials. Meanwhile, uncontrolled borders create a major social and security problem for the country. Whose problem are the politicians trying to solve — their own or the nation’s?

If you were trying to solve the country’s problem, the first order of business would be to regain control of our own borders. After trying various ways of doing that, and seeing how each one worked out, members of Congress could later turn their attention to what to do about the millions of illegal aliens already here in our midst.

On the other hand, if politicians are concerned primarily with solving their own political problem — that is, appeasing angry American citizens without risking the loss of Hispanic votes — then a package deal on immigration legislation is the way to achieve that.

The only way to avoid the loss of Hispanic votes, and the votes of others sympathetic to the cause of illegal immigrants, is to create amnesty of one sort or another under one name or another.

The only way to placate angry Americans is to call this amnesty something besides amnesty — and present it in a package deal with gestures toward controlling the border that will be called “tough,” whether any of these gestures will be seriously enforced or would be effective if they were.

The notion we cannot do anything about the borders until after we solve the problem of millions of illegal aliens already here is nonsense. There are many other fugitives from the law in this country and the fact we cannot find them all does not mean we should simply stop calling them fugitives and legalize them.

We certainly do not refuse to take legal action against other fugitives when we do encounter them. Yet illegal immigrants who are caught crossing our borders suffer no penalty whatever, but are simply sent back to try again the next day if they want to.

There are whole communities where policemen are under orders not to report illegal aliens to federal authorities when the cops catch the illegals for some other violation of the law. Other local officials are likewise supposed to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil when they encounter illegal immigrants in the normal course of their duties.

It is a phoney talking point to ask how we can find all the millions of illegal aliens already here. Many politicians clearly don’t want to do anything when illegal aliens are found.

By not doing anything about the millions of illegal aliens already here, we encourage even more millions to come here illegally in the future. By legalizing them to sweep the problem under the rug, we virtually guarantee that more millions will come.

Worse yet, we ensure there will be millions of people living here who are routinely accustomed to violating the law. What does that do to respect for our laws, not only by illegal aliens but by native-born Americans who see the law openly treated with contempt without consequences?

Even the usually astute Wall Street Journal equates the free movement of international trade and investment with the free international movement of people. It claims there is not merely an inconsistency but even an “absurdity” in “closing off our markets to foreign labor but not to, say, foreign capital and foreign technology and foreign goods.”

There is nothing absurd about treating different things differently. Is it absurd to have windows that let in light but keep out rain?

Just as light differs from rain, people differ from things.

People bring a huge amount of baggage that things do not.

We can import Japanese cars or cameras without importing the Japanese language. We can import clothing from China without importing China’s corrupt dictatorship. We have long imported oil from the Middle East without importing its economic backwardness or religious fanaticism.

Imported things cost those who buy them but do not cost the taxpayers money or cost the whole society the erosion of its culture and laws.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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