When it comes to illegal immigration, President Bush wants to have it both ways. Even as he sends his Homeland Security chief out to talk tough on border enforcement, he continues to push a thinly disguised amnesty plan that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants.
Fortunately, however, most Americans see right through that kind of political hypocrisy.
In mid-October, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yet another crackdown on illegal immigration. "Return every single illegal entrant - no exceptions," the secretary declared in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee as he pledged to end the "catch and release" policy that has allowed tens of thousands of illegal aliens, including potential terrorists from the strife-torn Middle East, to hide from immigration authorities here in the U.S. "But we're going to need more than just brute enforcement," Chertoff added. "We're going to need a temporary worker program as well."
Translated, that means the Bush administration intends to offer conditional amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants already in this country. They would be allowed to remain here for up to six years simply by registering with federal authorities and paying a "substantial fine." And then all they'd have to do in order to stay here forever would be to produce an American-born child. What a deal!
Although many gutless politicians wish it would simply go away, illegal immigration is certain to be a hot-button issue during next year's mid-term election campaign. Some misguided politicians seem to think that by refusing to address this complex issue they are currying favor with two key voting blocs: 1) so-called "immigration advocates" like Reno's Emma Sepulveda, who fail to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration and 2) unscrupulous businessmen who exploit the illegals by paying them less than minimum wages with no benefits.
Apparently, Bush believes that he's catering to an important segment of his Republican base - major campaign contributors in the business community - with his flawed immigration proposal, but the voters aren't buying it. Public opinion polls show that a sizeable majority of voters, including most Hispanic-Americans, want the federal government to crack down on illegal immigration by enforcing the law and controlling our porous borders.
The Bush administration was forced to speak out on immigration after two Democratic governors, Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, declared emergencies because illegal immigrants are overwhelming social services in those southwestern border states. The governors' actions freed-up more than $3 million in emergency funds for law enforcement overtime, for repairs of border and cattle fences, and for costs related to illegal immigrants' death and health care expenses.
After all, every time an illegal immigrant visits a hospital emergency room, local taxpayers foot the bill. These costs run to many millions of dollars in Nevada and border states like Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. A related question: How much are Nevada taxpayers shelling out for illegal immigrants' health care, and to educate their children?
In a recent Appeal op-ed piece, Robert Vasquez, a Mexican-American county commissioner in Idaho, asserted that illegal immigrants "contribute to the bankruptcy of our health care system, siphon off limited resources from our social service programs, force American schools to accommodate the presence of children whose parents aren't committed to the community, and relieve the political pressure on Mexican President Vicente Fox for much-needed reforms."
As a result, Vasquez sent a $2 million bill to Mexico City for "the costs of serving Mexicans who live here illegally" - a good idea even if the Mexican government stonewalls his request because Fox is happy to have the U.S. serve as a nearby escape valve for his failed economic policies.
Moreover, Vasquez revealed that Canyon County, Idaho, law enforcement officers "have uncovered two methamphetamine distribution rings fueled by illegal immigrants." That's a problem in Nevada too, as local officials well know. Just ask Mayor Marv Teixeira or Sheriff Ken Furlong how much Carson City is spending to track down and prosecute illegals who are involved in drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, illegal immigration is on the rise. In September, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that some 1.2 million foreigners snuck into the U.S. in 2004, an increase of 100,000 over the previous year despite creation of the Homeland Security Department and a new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That pushed our illegal population over the 10 million mark, far too many of whom are involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities.
So keep these facts in mind next time President Bush and his allies in both major parties tell us that their stealth amnesty plan will reduce crime by controlling our borders. It won't and they know it. It's just another example of how cynical politicians try to mislead us on vital issues that affect our pocketbooks and the quality of life in our communities - something to remember when we go to the polls next year.
n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.