Thursday, April 2, 2009

How To Eat An Elephant

Illegal Immigration is something that neither national political party wants to deal with (one of them wants voters, the other, cheap labor), and something that almost every citizen wants to have addressed. Whether you want deportation, incarceration, amnesty, or something in between, you want something done about it.

Will a wall be the best answer? How about raiding employers that have a propensity to hire illegals? Or how about cleaning out the jails, where we already know there are illegal immigrants who aren't being properly dealt with?

The answer: Yes.

One of the few things John McCain ever said on the campaign trail that made sense was in 2004 (let's face it, the best thing he had going for hin in '08 was that he was white) when he said that we "shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." I don't remember what he was talking about, but his 'let's do something that helps with a problem, even if we don't solve the problem 100%' was a pragmatic approach that can help with just about every problem known to man. With immigration, a wall won't stop everything because we know they come through the checkpoints en masse. Tougher checkpoints won't do it, because they'll return to the remote areas en masse. Going after employers alone won't do it because there are always enough employers who can fly under the radar with contract labor and sub-contractors, and cities like Houston will be more than happy to enable the day laborers. Raiding workers alone won't do it because there is an endless stream of replacements. Amnesty? That just ain't right according to the majority of the people. Even people who are for easier immigration aren't for blanket immunity.

So the answer is to do some of all of them. No one thing will work, but a comprehensive approach that does better at attacking all facets of the problem will have a cumulative effect that doing one or two things alone won't even come close to (save for outright immunity). And if you've read some of my local posts about immigration in Houston, you know that illegal immigrants in our jails are often let back out on the street at a time when they could be conveniently deported.

So I was encouraged to read that Pat Lykos is insisting that criminal defendants disclose their immigration status. And why not? If they are here legally, they get a free pass to a plea bargain and everything goes on as always. If they are here illegally, we start the process of deportation. According to the Chronicle stories on this subject, many freely admit to being here illegally but we've done nothing about it citing a lack of training and other issues like the difficulty in cross-decking information with ICE. Well, now we're doing something about it.

Nobody is forcing them to lie, for which they would face other penalties, and if they take the 5th the state would simply do their own work in verifying the immigration status of the defendant. ICE says that the impact on their work will be minimal. Shoot, it might even make their jobs easier, if you ask me, because the leg work of verifying status will be done. In general, it just means that although it can solve many issues in Harris County, it won't be a significant burden on ICE.

Some may look at that as a reason not to do this, but, that's short sighted. This program is just one more bite of the elephant. And if we can't eat the elephant one bite at a time, we'll never eat it.

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