If I take grim satisfaction in being proved right that the Immigration Bill would fail, it's partly because my political prognostication skills are always in doubt, especially to me. I call 'em like I see 'em, but what I see, and what the nation sees, is often different. I accept that, but I also try to learn from it. And on this one, I just felt I had it down cold. And I did. Who knew?
Let's be clear: we have a huge problem around immigration in this country that needs to be addressed. Where I think things get derailed is that the issue doesn't start with Mexico, or the 12-20 million undocumented folks already here. Where it starts is with a fundamental disconnect about immigration policy, and using it as a means to stop entrance to the country, rather than to encourage a reasonable, understandable process wherein all applicants are considered in a timely fashion, and a process exists for at least some, if not all, to achieve their goals. Until we can face that the "immigration problem" is bigger than the narrow "debate" just held in the Senate, we can't, I think, get anywhere on this issue. And the test of how serious we are about immigration will be played out - as it probably always would have been - with the next Presidential election.
Which is why Democrats would be well served to press our candidates to start doing some of the hard work now to move the immigration discussion forward.
A lot of Democrats fear being blind-sided by a jingoistic, lopsided "national security" debate, built around Iraq, that will derail any candidate - especially Hillary Clinton, but really Edwards and Obama as well - we put up. I think this is missing two crucial elements: one being that the current Iraq policy is an obvious disaster no one's endorsing, and second that "national security" is about more than Iraq.
This fear, I think, also underlines why Democrats have a "national security" problem: we can't, or won't, adequately define the problem, so we get nailed for things we don't even see coming. Immigration, I'd argue, is one of these. If we don't see how this could be a big problem - and a national security one - we're really sunk.
The point here is that as problematic as the right's opposition to some elements of the immigration bill are - there's not, on the right, an especially good answer for dealing with people already here - they are on to something: that failure to track people in the country on visas, failure to deport known criminals, and "catch and release" policies of dubious merit, have contributed to a decreased sense of safety. We don't know who's here; we don't know why they're here, and we don't know what potential problems they may represent. Moreover, because of our open, accepting nature as a nation, we have poor controls in place - not just the "fence situation," but visa controls at airports and other ports of entry - to both stop people from entering, or to track movement while they're here (or find them to make them leave).
These problems - and others, like how to provide for people who come here to be students, or temporary workers - can't be solved with the terrible bill that just failed, or anything like it. That includes the harsh enforcement penalties the bill envisioned (both fence and guard provisions as well as punitive actions against illegals who came forward) , and the visa "workarounds" (Z-visas and new guest worker programs) it created. As many reasonable (and Michelle Malkin, I have to say, gets my nod as someone who's surprisingly realistic on this) people have pointed out, we have laws in place - both on enforcement and on visas. They're just not working, or being used properly. And that problem, again, can't be solved by tinkering, yet again, on the margins.
I've laid my ideas out previously - what needs to happen here is a rethinking of how USCIS (the new acronym of INS) provides services and enforces immigration regulations. Along with that, we should rework immigration process in a way that encourages all visitors to register with the agency and declare their intentions; from there we can determine how to best address the demands for residency and citizenship. That, combined with basic enforcement of deporting criminal elements, visa jumpers, and businesses that tacitly or overtly encourage lawbreaking as a way to acquire cheap, exploitable labor, will encourage behavior we want, and discourage what we don't. It means the right will need to accept that many people already here will enter some sort of process that will likely lead to citizenship. And it means the left will need to stop basing immigration policy on admittedly sad stories of "life in the shadows" of exploitation. There will need to be rules, and they will need to make sense; but they will also need to be enforced. And it's likely not everyone will be able to stay, at least not indefinitely.
But the point is we need to start somewhere, and we need to do it soon. And doing it will take leadership. My ideas are just that: ideas. I'd be happy to hear others, because I'm not such an expert; I'm just a guy who's seen immigration at work, in people's lives, at our ports of call, and yes, on the news with those pictures of immigrants jumping walls and running through deserts. They're coming to America. Still. And patriotic as I am, I don't blame them; this is a great country. I just don't think getting here should be something like an episode of "The Fugitive." Call me crazy. But better still, call on elected officials to get their act together, and stop posturing and pandering - because that's the crazy part, if you ask me.