Thursday, July 12, 2007 | Immigration into America is out of control. People enter the country and stay at will, a practice which created an illegal population of 16 to 18 million people over the past two decades. A quarter of those people were legalized in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving another estimated 12 million illegal immigrants today, with the number growing. Every poll shows that Americans want their government to take control of this situation.
But government refuses to act. While other wealthy nations with similar problems take measures to stem similar (though smaller) tides and deal with those illegal immigrants already on hand, Washington sits on its hands. A bill in the Senate last month — laboriously brought up for a vote after months of negotiations — died despite a presidential visit to Congress to lobby for it. Presidents rarely go to Capitol Hill for that very reason: to lose a vote after such an effort is to be naked.
We must now wait until at least 2009 when a new Congress and president are in office. Given existing rates, another 1 million or so illegal immigrants will have arrived by then. Judged by the three most recent immigration laws, those of 1986, 1990 and 1996 — all failures by any reckoning — the 2009 (2010? 2011?) bill, assuming there is one, will be as hollow as the others. You have to go back to 1965 for an immigration law of any consequence, and most of the consequences of that one were unintentional.
There are various subjects one could choose today to demonstrate the dysfunction of our federal system as it enters its third century, but immigration is probably the best. Congress cannot give us an immigration bill that addresses the core issues because the 50 states cannot agree. Parse the various Senate votes last month and you find wildly differing state points of view.
California, with its 40 million people (and at least 3 million illegal immigrants, nobody knows for sure) desperately needs a solution, as do Arizona, Florida, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania — all states with substantial illegal immigrant populations. Both senators from each of those states supported the final bill last month, flawed as it was. The bitter resistance came from the Deep South and the Northern plains, where few illegal immigrants choose to go, and senators can ride their high horses.
A few years ago, an Iowa state commission — representing the 2.7 million souls who dwell in that worthy farm state (2.6 million of them white) — asked the governor to declare Iowa an “immigration enterprise zone” and petition Washington to exempt Iowa from immigration quotas. With many young Iowans leaving the farm, the idea was to bring in immigrants from wherever they might come — Mexico, Haiti, Cambodia, El Salvador — as long as they committed to stay in Iowa.