Yesterday I read the Senate Gang of Eight’s proposal on immigration reform. (Since when was Marco Rubio in this group, which first formed before he was elected to the Senate?) It promises a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for an undocumented worker presently in the United States. I suppose that in order to pass political muster from some very, very loudly-shouting people, the path must of necessity be “tough.” And it also apparently will need lots of ineffectual toys and par for the course in the Senate, the guys who agreed on the package yesterday can’t agree today on what they agreed on yesterday.
President Obama promises to announce his own preferred constellation of policies later today, which he says will be more liberal in nature, for instance by way of including provisions for same-sex bi-national couples. This does not seem calculated to appeal to Republicans for support should a reform proposal be sent to the House of Representatives, so I’m not entirely sure of the strategy here.
The proposal already gave rise to shouts of “Oh noes its amnesty!” from the usual suspects, some of whom will not be satisfied with anything short of issuing licenses to shoot illegal immigrants for sport. It hardly seems that demanding that a fine and back taxes be paid before getting to the back of the line constitutes amnesty. Indeed, I suspect that demanding this payment and submitting to a background check that creates a danger of deportation, before even beginning the process of getting a work permit and later citizenship, will deter a large number of undocumented people from stepping in to the process and incorporating themselves into the legal system.
We’re talking about people who very likely do not have a lot of money readily at hand — they’re working at low-wage jobs and probably not doing much better than living hand to mouth in most cases. They likely do not have a lot of knowledge about, much less trust in, the U.S.A.’s legal system. I’d be surprised if even one-tenth of the people purportedly covered by this program step forward to take advantage of it under these conditions.
And maybe that’s the political point. This can be called “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” but in fact it won’t be a whole lot of help to a whole lot of people. It would shift the blame to the individual workers here without documentation, for not stepping forward and taking advantage of a “path to citizenship” so steep effectively no one it aims at will be able to follow it. And then everyone in Congress can say, “Hey, we Did Something” and it isn’t their fault it didn’t work.
I suppose I should be happy that the reform proposal is more enlightened than “self-deportation,” although that isn’t saying much. Maybe if there could be payment plans set up for the fine and back taxes? Maybe if green card applications could be processed in a reasonably expedient fashion so the line wasn’t so long? The “tough but fair” path to citizenship looks like there’s a lot more emphasis on the “tough” part than the “fair” part to me — and as Will argues in the immediately previous post here, America’s policies should be tailored to meet America’s actual needs, and this looks more like something cobbled together to meld something less than half a loaf of actual reform along with heap of mollifying a variety of inchoate anxieties.
Of such raw materials good policies are at best only rarely made.