The Immigration Charade

In the NYRB, Christopher Jencks reviews Patrick J. Buchanan’s State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America:

The collapse of this year’s bipartisan push for immigration reform suggests that ending the charade will be extremely hard. This should not be the case. Many employers would accept more stringent penalties for hiring illegal immigrants in the future if that were the only way to legalize their current workers, and many immigrant groups would do the same. On the other side, many conservative activists might accept legalization of today’s illegal immigrants if that were the only way to ensure a crackdown on hiring illegal immigrants in the future. In principle, therefore, a deal should be possible.

But this deal turns out to have a fatal flaw. Legalization can be implemented within a few years, while penalties for hiring illegal immigrants have to be enforced indefinitely. That means employers get what they want right away, while opponents of illegal immigration have to wait. In view of the federal government’s miserable record on enforcement, no sensible conservative— indeed no sensible person of any political persuasion—would now accept mere promises. The conservative mantra is therefore “enforcement first.” For many employers that sounds like the road to bankruptcy. They want “legalization first.” As long as each side insists on getting what it wants before the other side does, no deal is possible and illegal immigration, with all its unhappy consequences, will persist.