Friday, June 08, 2007

Amnesty? What amnesty? Critics substitute fear for facts.

Opponents (Lou Dobbs, Tom Tamcredo, Pat Buchannan, Minuteman Groups, etc)of the immigration compromise being hotly debated in the Senate wield the word "amnesty" like a club, as if repeating it over and over constitutes rational argument.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., displays the word prominently on his presidential campaign website and describes amnesty variously as a "travesty" and a "catastrophe." CNN's Lou Dobbs invokes the word so often (six times in the introduction of his Wednesday broadcast alone) you'd think his anchor seat was under imminent threat from border-jumping TV hosts.

Such is the politics of fear, and if it is deplorable, it is also effective.

Although polls show that most Americans support giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, the bipartisan immigration bill was in trouble Thursday evening. Never mind that what it offers is not amnesty at all. Never mind either that defeating it - thereby retaining the current system - means that the 12 million illegal entrants already here will stay. It's fear that counts, not reason.

This is what the critics call amnesty:

Over time, illegal immigrants would have to pay fines and fees of more than $9,000 (plus thousands more for each family member). They'd have to prove they're working and have no significant criminal record. They'd have to learn English and American civics. And, if they want legal permanent residence, they'd have to return to their home country to apply for it there. Getting a green card would take at least eight years, citizenship at least 13.

Some amnesty.

In a perfect world, it might be reasonable to say that everyone here illegally should be deported. Law breaking, obviously, cannot be ignored. But if that were possible at all - which is very dubious - the cost would run far into the billions.

And for what?

Most immigrants work hard. They came to make better futures for themselves and their families. They have put down roots and are vital to the American economy. Even small crackdowns produce wails from employers who can't find replacement workers.

Ask detractors to stop braying "amnesty" for a minute and offer an alternative, and the response is too often the sort of non-answer Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave during Tuesday's GOP debate on CNN. Romney proposed "to enforce the law … that was passed in 1986."

Alas, that ship has sailed. It's simply not feasible to go back to start over - or to suddenly make it so difficult for illegals to work here that 12 million people magically self-deport, leaving restaurants, hotels and millions of small businesses with a crippling labor shortage.

And, oh yes, the 1986 legislation included an amnesty - a real one.

The critics should instead focus their efforts on a more legitimate goal: Making sure this reform includes both the means and the funding to keep millions more illegal immigrants from coming. If the federal government follows through aggressively - a big if, given the abject failure of the 1986 bill's enforcement provisions - the nation could get control over its borders and its workplaces.

The time to keep 12 million illegals who are here now out of the country was long ago. Maintaining the status quo is, as Sen. John McCain and others have said, simply a matter of Comprehensive Imigration reform "

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