Make no mistake about it, when President Bush urges Congress to enact "comprehensive immigration reform," he means that he intends to grant conditional amnesty to more than 10 million illegal immigrants currently residing in this country. I don't think Congress will let him get away with it.
Bush put on quite a show when he visited the U.S.-Mexico border at Yuma, Ariz., last Monday, inspecting a "Predator" unmanned drone and climbing into the bed of a pickup truck to see how the Border Patrol tracks illegal immigrants in the Southwest desert. The White House media show was designed to demonstrate that the president is serious about border enforcement, but the bottom line of his latest immigration reform proposal is amnesty, no matter how he and his allies - including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and most congressional Democrats - try to disguise it.
In Arizona, Bush boasted about tougher border enforcement. "The number of people apprehended for illegally crossing our southern border is down by nearly 30 percent this year," he announced. "We're making progress." Unfortunately, I think that claim is about as credible as the statement that we're making "progress" in Iraq because if enforcement is more effective these days, the Border Patrol would be apprehending more illegals, not fewer.
Bush added that "the atmosphere up there (in Congress) is pretty good right now" for immigration reform legislation. Apparently, he thinks he's finally found an issue that can help to save his failing presidency. I doubt it, however, because most congressional Republicans oppose his amnesty proposal, correctly pointing out that it rewards illegal border-crossers for violating our laws.
The president faces an uphill battle in Congress even though many Democrats agree with his immigration plan. Bush is arguing (but not very forcefully) for strict border controls, a temporary worker program, a crackdown on those who employ and exploit illegal immigrants and "a procedure that would allow some illegal immigrants to legalize their status" (amnesty, that is). He also advocates "a path to citizenship," although most illegals don't want to become American citizens; they merely want to work here and send money to their families back home.
I believe the U.S. should treat illegal immigrants the way Mexico does, by deporting them immediately without costly hearings requiring court-appointed attorneys and interpreters. That would represent simple reciprocity with Mexico, the country of origin for well over half of our illegal population. By the way, the Nevada Legislature took a step in the right direction last week by passing a bill to deport non-violent illegals being held in Nevada prisons, a move that would save state taxpayers at least $4.5 million per year, and probably a lot more. I urge the Legislature to take the next logical step by passing Reno Assemblyman Ty Cobb, Jr.'s bill to deny driver's licenses and other state benefits to illegals and their families.
When President Bush announced his latest immigration reform proposals, illegals took to the streets of Los Angeles and other cities to demand their "rights," including a blanket amnesty. Just imagine what would happen if several thousand illegal immigrants marched in Mexico City to demand their alleged rights; they'd be rounded-up like cattle and deported before they could say "I want an attorney." Think about it next time an "immigration advocate" complains about how we're mistreating the illegals.
I had an interesting and very cordial discussion with well-known immigration advocate Emma Sepulveda the other day as we participated in a panel discussion on U.S.-Latin America relations at the University of Nevada, Reno. A charming and effective advocate for liberal immigration policies, she always refuses to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration on grounds that our laws are broken and that it's simply too difficult for foreigners to obtain legal status in the U.S. Well perhaps, but she and many other immigrants, including my late wife, a native of Mexico, managed to abide by our immigration laws (to their credit). Yes, we should streamline our immigration laws but first, we must gain control over our porous borders for national security reasons and in fairness to law-abiding, legal immigrants.
The New York Times, which supports the Bush immigration reform plan, says the outlook for his legislation is in doubt. "When Democrats took control of Congress three months ago, many people predicted that it would be easier to pass a bill with the major ingredients sought by Mr. Bush," the Times observed. "But the outlook is now uncertain (because) Republicans and some moderate Democrats in Congress say they could not vote for any measure granting legal status to illegal immigrants," which makes perfectly good sense to me.
The federal government's challenge is to ensure that all immigrants play by the same rules and that those who jump the visa line by sneaking into our country aren't rewarded with legal status. Immigration has made the U.S. a stronger country because responsible immigrants have bought into the American dream by learning English and accepting our laws and way of life. I don't think that's too much to ask. How about you?
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.