EDITORIAL: Logistics faulty in immigration plans

Editorial Board

Last week was a visionary week for the Bush administration. On Wednesday, President Bush made surprising promises for massive immigration reform. The next day, an outline of his speech proposing to put humans on Mars was leaked.

Both are lofty and worthwhile goals. But at this point, his yet-to-be-announced plans for landing an American on the Red Planet are probably far more realistic than his pie-in-the-sky ideas for immigration reform.

Bush’s proposal is this: give illegal immigrants three-year visas to work jobs that can’t be filled by U.S. citizens. Thus, they would be allowed to work and participate in society without fear of being deported.

It is commendable that Bush recognizes illegal immigration is an issue that deserves attention. But throwing vague and ineffective reforms at the problem hardly seems like the proper solution.

The most fundamental problem with Bush’s plan is lack of available money and resources. The immigration arm of the Department of Homeland Security already has a backlog exceeding six million immigration applications. How can it keep up if the estimated 8.7 million illegal aliens already here try to sign up? Bush promises this program won’t interfere with immigrants who actually follow the lawful process, but simple math—unless much more funding is allocated—suggests otherwise.

Another practical concern is how to let immigrant workers in without giving terrorists an easy pass to enter our borders. But it is doubtful the current homeland security system, which has trouble monitoring its own citizens, will be able to “quickly and simply” screen criminals and terrorists from among the shadowy population of illegal immigrants.

And then there are the problems of principle: Bush’s plan is dependent on the idea of jobs that “American citizens are not willing to take.” Meatpacking jobs once were desirable and paid enough to support an American family. When the industry hired illegal immigrants who were willing to work under shoddy conditions and for skimpy wages, meatpacking jobs fell into the “unwanted” category. In essence, employers’ policies have often encouraged and perpetuated illegal immigration in the first place.

The message that illegal immigration is, well, illegal needs to be sent not only to the law-breaking immigrants, but to the companies that are eager to break the law for cheap labor.

To be fair, there has never been an easy way to reform immigration. So kudos to Bush if he works with Congress to hammer out some sensible reforms. Until then, there is little reason to believe the Bush administration is concerned with a real solution to the problem of illegal immigrants.