"What is it about the word illegal you don't understand"

Paul Greenburg:

"So what is it about the word illegal you don't understand?" It wasn't so much a question from a reader about my columns on illegal immigration, but a taunt from a critic.
But it's still a good question, and deserves to be addressed. Indeed, it's the strongest part of the other side's case in a controversy that's bound to grow even more heated in the months and years ahead unless some kind of national consensus can be reached.
There are now an estimated 8 million to 10 million illegals in this country, and that's a conservative estimate. Many more are sure to come unless we can agree on how to deal with the challenge -- or whether to deal with it at all.
The country's real if unofficial policy on illegal immigration until now largely has been to ignore it. Result: The flow across our southern border ever increases, along with disrespect for the immigration laws. Many other areas are affected: health-and-safety standards, minimum-wage laws, payroll taxes.


Those who would just round up all these millions of illegals and deport them advocate a "solution" that, however satisfying it may be to demand, won't solve anything. They might as well try to repeal the law of supply and demand. Or, like King Canute, command the waves to stop. So long as there is a huge supply of labor just across the border -- millions of desperately poor people -- and a great demand for them here, they'll continue to sneak across. (Wouldn't you?)


The Bush administration has proposed something better: a new version of the old bracero program that would allow foreign labor to sign up for a limited but renewable period -- three years -- before being required to return home.
To participate, employers would have to show no Americans could be found to fill the jobs offered foreign workers.
As temporary and now legal workers, these folks would be free to visit home and maintain their ties there without fear of being denied re-entry to the States. They would be allowed to apply for citizenship or for legal residence -- the treasured green card -- but not ahead of legal applicants.
Greenburg has swerved intot he problem. The quota for legal immigration has been set too low. If there are jobs available and people from outside the country willing to do them, the quota for legal immigration whould be flexible enough to rationalize those numbers.

At the same time we could easily get control of the the illegal immigration if we were serious about enforcing immigration laws. We sould be much more likely to be serious about enforcement if the quota was more rational. To be serious about enforcement, Rudy Guiliani's broken window theory would work in this case. Now states are forced to educate and treat illegal immigrants. Shouldn't they also out of respect for the rule of law, disclose these people to immigration authorities? While critics might charge that such disclosure would inhibit people from using these services, it would also give them incentive to get into the country legally. In other words it would make the guest worker program work and also be an answer to those who think it is just another amnesty.


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