By Tony Weigel
Back in the mid-1990’s, before GPS and Mapquest, this midwesterner attempted to navigate the roadways of greater Atlanta. It seemed like every road changed names at least twice and managed to run in every direction. What looked relatively clear on my map was indistinguishable once the rubber met the pavement. At my wife’s request, I reluctantly stopped to ask for directions. While it was embarrassing to ask the same person for directions more than once, we eventually reached our destinations.
That experience reminds me a lot of the direction of our country’s immigration laws and policies – we’re lost and in dire need of positive direction.
The current course was set in the mid-1990’s by Representatives Lamar Smith and Elton Gallegly. With President Clinton’s blessing, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and similar “enforcement only” measures became law. Fifteen years later, those with receptive senses know that these laws and policies have failed and pursuing more of the same will not yield a different result.
After devoting a record $34 billion towards immigration law enforcement over the last two years, some voices of the past believe we’re on the right track, as evidenced by Congressman Gallegy’s call for even more “serious” enforcement of existing laws in his The Wall Street Journal piece on April 15, 2011 (Link- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703551304576261103852662330.html).
Both Presidents Bush and Obama have attempted to change course and address one of the core problems – dealing with approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. Both have invested precious resources and time in the failed belief that driving faster and further in the wrong direction would satisfy and win favor with enough enforcement-minded members of Congress to advance positive immigration reforms. Instead of righting the direction, the overly compensatory strategy is stalled and there seems to be even less support for immigration reform in Congress than before.
Something needs to change, but what?
Americans are giving good directions, Congress should follow them!
Members of Congress should review the 2006 advice provided by the DC-based, public opinion firm, Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research (Link – http://images.dailykos.com/images/user/3/Luntz_frames_immigration.pdf), and the guidance on “Talking to Hispanics about Illegal Immigration.” Specifically, page 23 of the Luntz memo simply states: “They’re here. They’re part of our social fabric. And we should give them the opportunity to contribute to our society, our economy, and our culture … legally.”
Luntz’s findings square with the polling over the last five years. As summarized in the recent National Journal article, The Immigration Paradox (link – http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/the-immigration-paradox-20110511?page=1),
…in CBS/New York Times polls dating back to 2006, consistently only about one-third of Americans have said that illegal immigrants should be deported, while about three-fifths or more have said they should be allowed to obtain legal status and remain in the country if they meet certain conditions. Surveys by the Los Angeles Times and the ABC/Washington Post dating back to the 2006 immigration debate have usually produced similar results as well.
These observations are consistent with responses to Fox News’ questions posed in August of 2010 (link http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/081310_RoundupPoll.pdf). Along with Opinion Dynamics, Fox News conducted a poll that included the following questions:
- Do you favor or oppose giving illegal immigrants who pay taxes and obey the law a second chance and allowing them to stay in the United States?
- Do you think the federal government’s top priority should be securing the country’s borders, or passing new immigration legislation, or should both be done at the same time?
On both questions, only about one third of the respondents sided with the likes of Congressmen Smith and Gallegly. About two thirds of the overall respondents indicated support for positive immigration reforms, which included 63% of Republicans.
There are few feelings more unsettling than being hopelessly lost. With respect to our country’s immigration laws and policies, it’s time to find the brake pedal and put a stop to this seemingly endless journey to nowhere. The next election cycle is too distant to delay action. Members of Congress uncertain about advancing immigration reform now might try replicating Fox News’ fair and balanced questions in their own polling. If they do, a majority in Congress will find the direction they need to help chart a new course.
Foolishly racing headlong towards known failure is a losing proposition. We all deserve better. What do you say, guys?