I apologize for taking on the poor, downtrodden illegal immigrants yet again, but feel compelled to do so because they're a significant part of the huge fiscal problem in California, our beleaguered neighbor to the west.

And not only that, the federal government demonstrated once again earlier this month that it's not really serious about apprehending and deporting so-called "undocumented workers."

Let's start with the Feds' feeble efforts to enforce our country's immigration laws. Last week, buried deep inside a Reno daily, I came across an Associated Press item from San Diego reporting on an outrageous policy decision by the chief U.S. Border Patrol agent in that city.

According to the AP, Chief Agent William Veal advised his officers that they were "not authorized to conduct any 'interior enforcement' or 'city patrol' operations in or near residential areas or places of employment, including immigration inspections at day labor pickup locations." Translation: Don't enforce the law.

Veal issued his policy guidance Aug. 8 after Border Patrol agents detained five members of a Mexican family as they walked to their Consulate in downtown San Diego to apply for identification cards known as "matriculas consulares," which are designed to subvert U.S. immigration laws. Although the Mexican government complained, it didn't take long for Veal's boss, Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Robert Bonner, to rescind the order. The incident clearly demonstrates the reluctance of some federal officials to enforce the laws they're sworn to uphold. Veal said he was simply restating a policy in effect since 1999. Baloney!

Early this year, the Bush administration told us that the new Homeland Security Department would reorganize the old, ineffective U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service into a modern, state-of-the-art law enforcement agency. What they've done, however, is to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, splitting the INS into two sections: the Bureau of Immigration Services, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. But although the INS deported a few more potential Arab terrorists during the last fiscal year, deportations of illegal Mexicans actually dropped by 25 percent. Which brings us to the California recall election.

California Gov. Gray Davis, who is almost certain to be recalled on Oct. 7, is "legalizing" as many illegal immigrants as he can in a frantic search for Hispanic votes against the recall. He and his administration have promised driver's licenses to illegals and are enthusiastically accepting the Mexican government's "matricula consular" as valid ID in California even though it is -- as the moderate Christian Science Monitor pointed out -- a "highly dubious" form of ID and "an affront to the rule of law."

"Many in Washington (and Sacramento) have looked the other way as Mexico aggressively tries to legalize the migrants' status," the Monitor continued. "But letting another country give a stamp of approval to illegal activity in the U.S. is something out of a Mad Hatter's tea party." Welcome to Alice in Wonderland.

And why do so many federal and state politicians ignore this massive violation of our immigration laws? For two main reasons: (1) they lust after Hispanic votes and (2) they want to keep campaign contributors happy -- the wealthy businessmen, including some unscrupulous Nevada employers, who hire illegals for less than the minimum wage and without benefits of any kind.

Most of us remember the INS raid a year or so ago that netted more than 160 "undocumented workers" at a Carson City manufacturing company. The owner claimed ignorance and was never punished. Surprise!

One of the knocks on Austrian-American actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the front-runner in California's recall election, is that he supported Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative that would have barred most state services to illegal immigrants. Even though California's liberal appeals courts overturned the measure, we should note that about 60 percent of the voters approved Prop. 187, including more than 30 percent of those sought-after Hispanic voters. Gov. Davis will need their votes to avoid recall and Ahhnold will need them to win.

As conservative commentator Rich Lowry observed recently, Schwarzenegger's vote for 187 "is considered as a scandal (by the actor's critics), demonstrating his backwardness and bigotry. (But) if so, he has plenty of company." Lowry called the measure "an appropriate reaction to the federal government's inability to police the nation's borders, and the fiscal burdens consequently placed on California," and I agree.

Lowry asserted that more than half of the roughly 7 million people in California who are without health insurance come from immigrant families, as do half of all children in the state's public schools and half of all welfare recipients (average check: $1,400 per year).

But anyone who mentions those facts is immediately branded as a "bigot" by California's aggressive PC Police. Well, as former Gov. Pete Wilson, who's campaigning for Schwarzenegger, said: "If Democrats want to make an issue of Proposition 187, bring 'em on. If 187 was on the ballot today, it would pass again by the same margin, maybe more." You go, Pete!

The attitude of San Diego Border Patrol Chief William Veal is all too common in the federal government, representing a "see no evil" approach to border enforcement. Fortunately, the head of the union that represents Veal's agents, sees it differently. "This is incredibly good news," he said after his boss's lax policy was overruled. "It will let us do our jobs." I certainly hope so, but don't bet on it.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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