Tom Ridge finally worked up the nerve to say what’s obvious: the several million illegal immigrants in this country pose a security threat, and since the country obviously lacks the capacity and the will to kick them out it’s necessary to regularize their status in some way, making it legal for them to work and drive. That way those whose status remains irregular can be singled out for enforcement attention. The natural complement of this would be a true national identity system.
Of course, Ridge’s claim that such a partial amnesty (he would make the newly regularized residents ineligible to apply for citizenship) could be a one-time-only maneuver might or might not prove to be true. If hiring newly arrived illegals remains attractive to employers, someone will find a way to supply that demand, and no plausible level of enforcement directed at the new arrivals is likely to change that fact. That suggests another natural complement: real enforcement of employer sanctions.
Here’s my proposal for an employer-sanctions program that would work: Any person who gives testimony leading to the conviction of an employer for hiring an undocumented worker, including the worker himself, gets a green card. As long as the identity system is strong enough so that employers can obey the law if they want to, the result would be an immediate drying-up of the demand for undocumented labor.
But as important as those details are, it’s more important that a senior official of the Bush Administration has said the right thing. Reading between the lines, this appears to be a trial balloon, with Bush ready to cut Ridge off at the knees if the political reaction is bad enough. The politics may be right from Bush’s perspective: any such program would be popular with Latinos, while the people who hate it probably aren’t going to vote Democratic in the any case. I don’t much care whether this is being done for good reasons or bad ones; it’s the right thing to do, on a crucial issue, and I’m delighted that, for whatever reason, the current move seems to be to put aside the sort of immigrant-bashing that worked so well for Schwarzenegger in the interests of national security.
One of the few consolations I took from the 2000 election was that at least (and at last) we had elected a President who understood the importance to the United States of Mexico. I was dismayed when Bush allowed 9-11 to make him forget what he knew, leaving Vicente Fox twisting in the wind. (No, I’m not especially a fan of Fox, and I’m really not a fan of the PAN — which has not entirely forgotten its Falangist roots — but making Mexico a real multi-party state is an essential first step to making it a working modern society.)
Those of us who have been critical of the current administration in the past and expect to be so in the future ought to be especially loud now in praising what is, at least, a bold move, however calculated it may be. It’s vital that over the next several days or weeks the reaction to this should be more positive than negative. With a little practice, I bet you can learn to say “President George W. Bush did the right thing” without actually gagging. Try.