President Bush appears ready to abandon his uncharacteristically centrist position on immigration reform. Up until recently, he supported the Senate bill, which combines enhanced enforcement at the border with opportunities for illegal immigrants to take steps toward citizenship. He developed this position out of his experience as the governor of Texas, where he saw first hand the problems in border enforcement and the valuable work performed by undocumented workers. The business element of his party generally supports the "wink wink" approach, as it provides the most workers at the lowest cost.
We read in the New York Times (registration required) that Bush is under intense pressure from his conservative wing to back off his moderate position on immigration. He appears to be shifting toward the hard-line House approach, contemplating an "enforcement first" strategy that would seal the borders and toss out all 12 million undocumented workers, no matter how long they have been in the country. (We have blogged previously just how difficult it would be to identify and remove 12 million people, let alone seal our borders.) Under a House bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, undocumented workers, after returning home, could sign up at privately-run manpower operations in their native countries, where they might or might not be able to re-enter this country as guest workers (can you spell "bribery"?).
How long would it take to ship out all of undocumented immigrants? Just how will local law enforcement approach the problem? Governor Romney of Massachusetts, another Republican with presidential ambitions, wants to use the state police to identify and arrest illegal immigrants. Peter Rousmaniere of working immigrants links us to a Boston Globe article on this dubious idea. The state cops certainly could make a few arrests pretty quickly, as the workers cleaning their barracks are mostly undocumented. Beyond this handful, the process for identifying, arresting and deporting hundreds of thousands of people remains in doubt.
A Modest Proposal
The Insider is sensitive to the myriad logistical problems in rounding up and shipping out 12 million people. After all, we had trouble with the temporary evacuation of a few thousand people in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Can you imagine the traffic jam at the Mexican border when the deporation program gathers some momentum?
We would like to move the debate forward with a plan of our own. To separate the legal residents of this country from the illegal, we propose a national identity system. We are tired of the debate over its feasibility. Let's go with the subcutaneous version, which implants a computer chip with personal identifiers under the skin of every documented citizen, regardless of age. As for newborns, let's cut the cord, wash them up and immediately inject the little chip into their torsos. Welcome to America, baby!
Then we install monitors everywhere: on bus and train turnstiles, in airport security systems, in the doorways of every business in America, in every condo and yes, in every private home. You try to enter without the embedded chip, an alarm goes off and you're busted. We have plenty of empty factories to use as temporary detention facilities. To discourage the manufacture and sale of counterfeit chips, we make it a capital crime.
One of the many advantages of this comprehensive system is that you can track every movement of every citizen, 24/7. To defer the rather substantial costs of implementing the program, you simply sell the invaluable data to private companies. They'll love it!
I have to admit there are a couple of minor problems in this proposal that need to be worked out. The first problem, which we share with the honorable representative from Indiana, is to figure out who will cut the lawns, clean the houses, take out the trash, build the homes and bag the groceries when we lose 12 million workers in one fell swoop. There's going to be one heck of a labor shortage for a considerable period of time.
The second problem is perhaps more subjective. The only people walking around with complete freedom, with the privacy and independence envisioned by our founders, may be the illegal immigrants who lacked the documentation to qualify for an identity chip. They will be truly free, if only for a few precious moments until the alarms go off and the hand cuffs go on. As for the rest of us, the price of freedom and liberty may well be freedom and liberty themselves. A modest price for a modest proposal. The good news is that we will finally be rid of the people who snuck across our borders to take on the back-breaking jobs that no one else apparently wanted.