The great American civics lesson proclaims the excellencies of bills becoming laws.
Reality has proven to be far less regal.
Witness the extraordinarily contentious debate roiling Washington over Capitol Hill's latest venture into immigration reform. What began with ossified partisan rhetoric flanking two disparate sides of the debate over illegal immigration has somehow squeezed through the Gang of Eight's meat grinder of consensus-searching to a vote in the Senate yesterday that, well, didn't resolve anything.
Granted, our elected representatives in Washington take votes all the time that don't mean anything. But yesterday's vote on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act represented a procedural exercise designed to determine if the measure has any chance of surviving a full-blown vote for the record.
Apparently, if the bill's overwhelming affirmation yesterday holds, it has a clear chance of passing the Senate for real later this week. At 67-27, it wasn't even close. The vote might have been even more lopsided if several senators, flying into Washington for the vote, weren't delayed by bad weather.
Whether the American public will like what gets passed, however, is still unknown. It's an incredibly expensive bill, projected to cost taxpayers approximately $46 billion, mostly for border security, including new helicopters, vision technology, and the hiring of a whopping 20,000 border agents. At a time when Republicans are trying to hammer away at rampant government spending and billowing deficits, this chunk of change will hit taxpayer wallets hard. Ironically, however, all of that money was thrown into the pot by liberal New Yorker Charles Schumer, not as Democratic pork, but as a sweetener to woo security-crazy conservatives. Liberals are actually mad at Schumer for spending that much money.
Frankly, even though I'm an advocate for bipartisanship, and have been willing to wait and see what the Gang of Eight could come up with, I'm not crazy about fences, helicopters, and the sort of back-door amnesty this bill provides. We already know fences don't work because of the sophisticated tunnel networks we've uncovered as most of the border sits wide open. We know helicopters don't work because we can all hear them coming from a couple of miles away. Plus - and I'm no expert, obviously - couldn't their rotor blades blow up enough sand - remember, the border is arid desert - to interfere with patrol agents wielding guns? And can technology really ever create the type of virtual border fence that we've already spent $1 billion to develop, with absurdly dismal results? Yes, technology likely has advanced significantly since the Bush-era project was scrapped two years ago, but instead of trying to fortify our borders, with bricks and mortar or digital surveillance, why not try to keep people out in more effective ways?
I've already advocated that the best way to control illegal immigration is to crack down on employers who intentionally hire illegals. Border patrols, jail time, splitting up families, and deportations haven't worked well, and, as some human rights activists claim, may actually force illegals further underground to avoid detection, which also compromises their safety. If Washington would reduce the demand for workers willing to break the law by working for employers willing to break the law, we'd be well on our way to the "organic repatriation" about which I've written before on this blog. No extra money for fences, border patrol agents, or government bureaucrats shuffling more amnesty paperwork. Reduce the incentives for employers to treat their workers like chattel and illegals already in this country will return to their homes, and few people will want to come here illegally.
We also need to restructure our guest-worker program to help support industries with short, defined, high-production periods. Corporate America wants a way to reassure highly-trained foreign workers that they can come here without fear of being deported like a fence-jumper. And we need to figure out a way to preserve the dignity of people born here as anchor babies of parents who've willfully broken the law to try and secure American benefits without proper naturalization.
So far, the Gang of Eight has managed to cobble together agreements for constructing a new employee verification system, but that will only work for employers that likely are already trying to abide by the law, not employers who want to pay below-market wages under the table. There's also a visa tracking program included in the Senate's bill to help flag people who've overstayed their welcome, but how does that protect anybody if those people with expired visas never fly?
Maybe the Senate feels so gung-ho on their Gang of Eight's compromise because it looks to the American public like they're actually getting something done, but they know that, in the end, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives won't play along. Senators figure they can safely throw nearly $50 billion at the problem of illegal immigration and then point fingers when it all crashes and burns on the floor of the House. After all, it doesn't currently appear as though there's much in the Senate's bill that appeals to a majority of anybody on the other side of the Capitol.
And there's more. No matter what happens in either the Senate or the House on the Gang of Eight's efforts on illegal immigration, the elephant in the room isn't amnesty, or visas, or guest worker programs. It's illegal drugs, and the seemingly insatiable demand for the stuff on our side of the border.
Even if Washington had an epiphany and realized that my idea for organic repatriation is a wonderful solution, and illegal immigrants continued their self-initiated return to their home countries - after all, illegal immigration is said to be in decline as our Great Recession drags on and unemployment here remains high - we'd still have drug runners, human traffickers who employ "mules" to deliver their cargoes of narcotics, and the gristly drug gangs running wildly popular cartels that have virtually rendered the Mexican side of our border a lawless wasteland. Officials in countries like Mexico consider the animosity many American display against illegals as spilt milk compared with the social, political, and economic strife our thirst for narcotics has wreaked on their countries.
Run-of-the-mill illegals may be lawbreakers, but they pose little mortal danger to legal Americans with whom they come in contact here. Employees of the cartels, however, are ruthless killers, defiant not only of laws, but basic human dignity. Again, the drug trade is a problem of supply and demand, just like the illegal immigration problem is. Unfortunately, the drug abuse problem in the United States is more of a moral problem than a legal one, since it's a lot harder to make people obey laws when they're desperate for their narcotic fix than it is employers who only flaunt the law when there are no severe economic penalties for doing so.
Ironic, isn't it, that exploitation is at the root of both of these problems? Drug runners exploit the need Americans have for using narcotics to dull the pain in their lives, while American employers exploit the desire illegals have to work for a pittance so they can, in turn, earn a greater profit on what they consider "unskilled labor." Meanwhile, angry right-wing blowhards like Laura Ingram are screeching today about how moderate Republicans and their efforts towards the Senate's compromise immigration bill are "killing" the GOP. She and other conservative talking heads like scoring points by making illegals the star villains in this saga.
Kinda like how we forget to blame our fellow Americans for the illicit drug trade.
Unfortunately, the unsung villains may just be those of us in our society who like to exploit others.