Monday, November 29, 2010

Immigration Blues

The news: the gears leading to the DREAM act are starting to turn ever so slowly and if we are lucky, we might get it passed. Yet it is something of a tribute to our era of diminished expectations that this counts as a notable accomplishment—let’s look at what the act actually does:
The measure would allow students who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country at least five years, and have a high school or equivalent degree, to apply for permanent residency after two years of college or military service.

Which is nice, to be sure, but it doesn’t cover all of the undocumented immigrants who chose to come after age 16; indeed, this formulation makes it seem as if there’s something wrong with being an immigrant and coming to our country and wanting to work hard. (One of the bill’s sponsors, Luis Gutierrez, inadvertently frames the issue in a way that supports this interpretation:
“They didn’t decide, when they were six, seven or eight years old, to come here [illegally],” said GutiĆ©rrez, 56, in a recent interview during Thanksgiving recess. “Should we hold children responsible for the actions of their parents?”
)

All this avoids the issue that what we really want is not merely offering undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, but figuring out how to attract more immigrants, period. Sadly this particular strain of thought is unlikely to gain many adherents, what with the new guy in charge of immigration in Congress, Rep. Steve King:
If the GOP votes as expected this month, Steve King will be in charge of immigration legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. For proof that a meteor hit D.C. on November 2, listen to the ideas running through the head of the likely next chair of the immigration subcommittee. King has called for an electrified fence along the border. He wants to interpret the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to deny birthright citizenship for immigrants who have children here. He has dubbed illegal immigration not just a “slow-motion terrorist attack” but a “slow-motion holocaust.” “The line of scrimmage has moved closer to our goal line,” King tells me, “and you’ve got a different team calling the plays.” What gives liberals tremors is not just that Barack Obama’s immigration agenda is dead. It’s that King’s swaggering personality will dominate the debate for years.

Sadly, with attitudes like this, we’ll have to live with small achievements.

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