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The Collective
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I have now listened to the speech (the text of which (as well as video) can be found here). In the speech Bush outlined five “clear objectives.” Here are some of my reactions.

First:

the United States must secure its borders. This is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security. Our objective is straightforward: The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.

I suppose no one would argue with this. The question becomes, and it is one no one has really dealt with, what constitutes a “secure” border. If it means the utter elimination of drugs and illegal immigrants crossing it, then “secure” is impossible.

As a practical matter, how low must those flows get before we can deem it “secure”?

I think that, on balance, most people who do not live near the border have no clue as to how much legitimate traffic passes over it on a daily basis. When one considers the amount, the notion of a truly “secure” border is a chimera, unless we have a fairly loose definition of “secure.”

Still, it would be helpful to know what the President (and his critics, for that matter) would consider to be a “secure” border.

Some numbers to consider from a previous post (citations for quotes at end of this post):

In 2000 alone, 489 million people, 127 million passenger vehicles, 11.6 million maritime containers, 11.5 million trucks, 2.2 million railroad cars, 829,000 planes, and 211,000 vessels passed through U.S. border inspection systems (Flynn 2002).

and

“US Customs officials must clear one container every 20 seconds in southern California, and one truck every 12 seconds in Detroit” ( Flynn 2000:59).

Consider: those are old numbers-the figures will have gone up in the last six years.

Further, in 2005 the combined imports and exports between the US and Mexico were US$ 290.2 billion (see here). That makes Mexico our second largest trading partner in the world after Canada. That trade crosses the border. There is a level at which security on the border hampers that economic flow. How far are we willing to go? It is a legitimate question that I don’t think has been adequately answered.

Second:

to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program. The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.

I think that this gets to the heart of the matter: even as we have increased security on the border, and as we have increased the number of border patrol agents, the number of illegal immigrants making into the US has not slowed. The pull here is primal and one that cannot be legislated away. Further, there are clear economic forces of supply and demand at work here that need to be recognized and considered as laws are written. A guest worker program would allow for a greater management of those forces. There are legitimate issues to be considered with such a program, as it has the potential to create a caste system of sorts, which is something to consider. I think that the number of immigrants in general from Mexico ought to be raised as well. Let those who want to be citizens seek that route, and let those who simply want to work temporarily, work temporarily. In all of this, examine the economic realities as any program is designed.

Third:

we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees because of the widespread problem of document fraud. Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility. A key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law, and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place.

I have to wonder about this point. I understand the concept-in its simplest form the notion is make it possible for employers to know for sure (which is not possible now) whether or not they are hiring illegals or legals. However, this strikes me as a nod to a technological solution that doesn’t currently exist. I know that the tech to do the task exists, but the mass-production and implementation of it is different matter. Further, unless we also have such identification for US citizens (which isn’t a popular notion), then all this program would do (assuming that the new docs would, indeed, be forgery-proof), would simply result in forgery of documents that make an illegal appear to be a citizen.

If a guy has a driver’s license, social security card and birth certificate, what’s an employer going to do? I’ll tell you: they’ll do what they do now, gladly accept the documents as real and give the guy a hammer, broom or spatula.

Fourth:

we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are here already. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully, and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.

[…]

I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship, but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I’ve just described is not amnesty, it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

This all seems rather reasonable. Of course, one can almost hear the collective rolling of the eyes of Michelle Malkin and her compadres on this topic as they say that this is amnesty.

Fifth:

we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices, from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams, they renew our spirit, and they add to the unity of America.

I concur with this concept, and think it is clear that the route to success in the US requires the learning of English.

On balance, it was a fairly moderate speech. I continue to find the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops to be problematic. And, in general, I am not sure that there was rally much new here. It will be interesting to see how/if the speech affects the debate in the Congress.

I found the speech to also contain a number of assumptions about how technology (biometric, border sensors, drones, etc.) will solve the problem. Take tech and add the military and we have two of America’s favorite magic bullets. However, there are no magic bullets that can be utilized to solve this issue. Ultimately, I have to wonder whether any of this will solve much of anything.

Of course, as James Joyner notes, the speech didn’t really make anyone happy.




Works Cited
Flynn, Stephen E. (2002) “America the Vulnerable” Foreign Affairs. Jan/Feb.

Flynn, Stephen E. (2000) “Beyond Border Control” Foreign Affairs. NovDec.

Update: Some typos corrected.

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3 Comments

  1. Dr. Taylor,

    I find it curious that Bush outlined point 3 then in point 5 told a story of the US Government employing an illegal immigrant in the US Army. Isn’t there a glaring condratiction there?

    Comment by Bill K — Tuesday, May 16, 2006 @ 8:19 am

  2. […] t we can start a mass production in the biometric technology field, he has really lost it. Dr. Steven Taylor agrees: I understand the concept–in its simplest form the notion is make it possible for […]

    Pingback by Politics In Alabama » Blog Archive » Was the Speech Even Worth Making? — Tuesday, May 16, 2006 @ 9:18 am

  3. Is a border fence about to become reality?

    If some border fencing has passed the Senate wihtout being fillibustered to death, and it has, then I should say so.
    UPDATE that should be a POSTDATE: Here’s Polibblogger talkin’ sense on immigration.

    Trackback by Pros and Cons — Wednesday, May 17, 2006 @ 7:24 pm

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