Just a Minutemen: Washington's place you ought to beBy FROMA HARROP
I've got news for the Minutemen tracking illegal aliens in southern Arizona. If you really want to control illegal immigration, you are in the wrong place. The place to go is Washington. And the people to confront are President Bush and Congress, not the Mexican peasants sneaking into the United States.
The Bush administration is using you.
The Minutemen are volunteers who patrol the border in search of illegal immigrants. Their work is utterly futile.
Everyone knows that on the first or 10th try, the illegal alien will get past the circus at the border. From there, it's on to Houston, Chicago or Anytown USA, where he's home free.
Illegal immigrants come for jobs. Were it not for the jobs, 98 percent of them would not be here. It also happens to be against federal law to hire illegal aliens.
How well has the Bush administration enforced that law? Here's the simple answer: There are an estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the United States. Only 124 employers were fined in 2003 for hiring them. That number comes from the Department of Homeland Security, and there are no missing zeros.
Illegal aliens depress the wages of low-skilled citizens and legal immigrants. This situation suits Bush just fine. Bush loves nothing more than cheap labor. For all we know, he may regard illegal workers as a kind of tax break for business.
So the cheap-labor crowd finds great value in keeping the immigration system broken. But there's the political problem. Because illegal immigration angers most Americans, Bush must appear to be doing something about it.
Hence, the big show at the border. In response to the Minutemen publicity, he sent 500 additional Border Patrol agents to the Arizona border. (Actually, they're not new agents. He just stripped them from San Diego and other border areas.)
Elsewhere, Bush throws out the welcome mat to illegal immigrants. For example, his proposed temporary-worker program. Everyone correctly read it as a big amnesty plan. Border Patrol agents say the announcement itself set off the recent wave in illegal crossings. They report picking up illegal immigrants who ask where they can sign onto the program.
Despite the new chaos unleashed at the border, the president has said nothing since to clarify his earlier remarks. As far as the world is concerned, the U.S. labor market is open for international business.
Some in Congress demand Bush do something real about illegal immigration. He has a response. It's a Tony Soprano deal: If Congress gives him the big amnesty and guest-worker program, he'll seriously start enforcing the employer sanctions. Not before.
Of course, most immigration experts don't believe for a minute that Bush would do anything to cut the flow of cheap labor. "If they were serious, they'd be enforcing the law now, so they would have credibility with Congress," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
What could the president and Congress do now to enforce the law? For one thing, they could require employers to electronically check the Social Security numbers and work eligibility status of prospective hires. This simple process would weed out people with counterfeit documents. The program is already up and running, but is voluntary.
Every year, the Internal Revenue Service gets more than a million tax returns on which the taxpayer ID number does not match the Social Security number on the W-2 form. The most likely reason is that the Social Security number was fake or stolen.
In years past, the Social Security Administration would send out "no match" letters to employers. That helped honest companies weed out undocumented workers. In 2003, however, that program was deemed "too effective," according to Krikorian, and dramatically scaled back. It could be restored.
It should be obvious. The only place to control most illegal immigration is in the federal bureaucracies and their computers. Citizens who get into confrontations with illegal immigrants are playing sucker in a fixed game.
The Minutemen now rail at Bush for calling them "vigilantes." But by drawing the spotlight to the border, they are playing into his hands. If the volunteers want to be effective, they should turn their SUVs in a northeasterly direction and head to Washington. Now that might make an impression.
Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist based in Providence, R.I.