Tuesday, February 27, 2007

comprehensive immigration reform

The Economist has an update on the chances of a comprehensive immigration reform passing this year:

An odd coalition of business groups, trade unions and civil-rights organisations is pushing hard for reform under the umbrella of the Alliance for Immigration Reform 2007. An equally odd coalition of White House operatives, Democratic leaders and reform-minded Republicans is also working in the same direction. A new version of the McCain-Kennedy bill could be launched as early as mid-March. And Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, the two parties' leaders in the Senate, have said that immigration will be one of the first ten bills they will consider. This time the chances of success are higher than last.

The main reason is the new Democratic majority in the House. The most virulent opposition to reform came from Republican House members who were obsessed with cracking down on illegals and building a 700-mile (1,125km) fence along the border with Mexico.

That didn’t work out so well for some of them, as the article points out: “Several high-profile immigrant-bashers, such as Arizona's J.D. Hayworth and Indiana's John Hostetler, lost their elections.”

Now that the Democrats are in the majority, Zoe Lofgren, the head of the sub-committee on immigration, thinks a deal is at least a possibility.

The reformers are also adopting a tougher tone. The new McCain-Kennedy bill will put more emphasis on beefing up the border, punishing errant employers, enforcing the law and assimilating new immigrants. It will also try to rebut Republican charges that it rewards lawbreaking and offers amnesty. Two current ideas are to impose a hefty fine (up to $5,000) on illegal immigrants who want to become legal, and to make illegals return to their countries of origin (“touching base”, in the jargon) in order to apply for legal entry.

Hmm, that sounds pretty crappy. Would this be a hefty fine on top of the proposed fee increases?

The reformers will have to overcome some big political and practical problems.

I’ll pass over the magazine’s take on the political problems, since its political analyses are often as infuriating as they are wrong.

The practical problem is that the proposed bill will become so tough that it is self-defeating. Why should illegal immigrants come out of the shadows if they have to “touch base” and put themselves in the hands of America's notoriously slow and inept bureaucracy? And why, for that matter, should liberal interest groups support a bill that might seem punitive?

. . .

Karl Rove, Mr Bush's chief strategist, has long pointed out that it is stupid to alienate America's fastest-growing minority—particularly one as culturally conservative as the Latinos. In a swathe of states that Republicans need to retain the presidency, their numbers are crucial: New Mexico is 43% Latino, Texas 35%, Nevada 24%, Florida and Colorado 20%.

Here’s a political point with which I agree. But the party doesn’t seem to be listening much to Rove these days, and the White House position on immigration is one reason why.

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