Editorial Ropundup for Sunday — November 27, 2005

• Illegal immigration: A chance, not a fence


Illegal immigration: A chance, not a fence

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 23, 200

As if President George W. Bush needed any more problems, his Republican allies in Congress next month may ask him to choose sides on the controversial question of building a 2,000-mile fence along the U.S. border with Mexico. Most Democrats already are against the idea; the president will be asked to choose among Republicans.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is sponsoring legislation to put up the fence. He has the support of border-state Republicans who see the barrier as the only effective deterrent to illegal immigration from Mexico. They say a prototype 14-mile section of fence along the border south of San Diego has cut illegal immigration by 80 percent. Extending the fence all the way to Brownsville, Tex., and reinforcing it with more Border Patrol agents and new surveillance technology could cost as much as $8 billion.

Though conservative bloggers and talk radio fans love the idea, it has very little chance of passage. Too many other Republicans are listening to corporate interests (and campaign contributors) who say that illegal immigrants are vital to the U.S. economy. By taking jobs that Americans are loath to take, illegal immigrants not only keep the grass cut, the crops picked and the beds made, but also depress wages across the economy.

Mr. Bush’s own immigration proposals include 1,000 more Border Patrol agents, new technology (approved in a bill he signed last month) and a “guest worker” program that he didn’t spend much political capital on even when he had it to spend. His political rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his political nemesis, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., are sponsoring a guest worker bill in the Senate. It would allow 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States and up to 400,000 new immigrants each year to obtain 3-year work permits, renewable for three more years.

Conservatives call this “amnesty” and question whether any of the workers really would go home when their guest status expired. Organized labor also opposes the guest worker concept, suggesting it would create a “worker caste” that holds down wages and does nothing to promote upward social mobility. Even its supporters are divided on the question of whether guest workers should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship.

In the long run, the problems of illegal immigration will be solved only when Mexico offers decent jobs to its own citizens. The irony there is that many supporters of the fence also oppose free trade agreements, preferring fences over a fair chance.

In the short run, rather than waste time posturing for next year’s elections on the issue of a fence that won’t be built, Congress should deal head-on with the question of amnesty, in addition to funding more effective border enforcement.

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