Having accomplished nothing, Congress recently responded as it always does -- by giving itself a one-month vacation from accomplishing nothing.
Since Congress failed to pass President Bush's immigration law, or the Democratic immigration proposal, or any other new immigration law, the Department of Homeland Security came up with its own impractical, unenforceable law.
The new ruling calls for severely punishing the employers of undocumented immigrants. And who are the loudest critics of this new law? Farmers and business owners. The administration might have thought they were tossing a bone to the party faithful who want some new immigration policy, but they may have actually angered their own political base.
The idea of arresting and/or fining a boss for the illegal behavior of his or her employees is an interesting one. Do you think you should be arrested if someone who works for you steals a car? Just think if President Bush were held legally responsible for all of the wrongdoers who have worked for him. He'd be walking around in a striped suit with a number on it.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff claims that this measure wasn't meant to "punish" Congress for not passing an immigration bill. However, he also said that maybe once these provisions are in force for a while, Congress would view immigration reform differently. Sounds like punishment to me.
Let's pretend for a moment that the administration is serious about this new ruling, and that they plan on enforcing it. It's estimated that half of the agricultural workers in this country are undocumented immigrants. If you remove them from the work force, who's going to do all the harvesting? Are Chertoff and his people going to roll up their sleeves and start picking crops? Twenty-five percent of textile and garment workers, and 18 percent of sewing machine operators in this country are undocumented. Who's going to make our clothes? I know that now almost everybody agrees that global warming exists, but I don't think the solution to that problem is walking around naked.
If this new immigration policy is enforced, we consumers are either going to have to pay outrageous prices for things, or go without them. Neither situation sounds like something a Republican administration would want to add to its legacy.
So, it seems that this measure is just for show, or –- to turn one of the administration's favorite phrases on itself -- "political theater." Chertoff himself admits that the law cannot be totally enforced, but he hopes that the threat of its being enforced will act as a deterrent. And I hope that, starting tomorrow, my car will be able to run on air rather than gasoline. But that's not going to happen either.
But I guess they felt they had to throw something out there. There's an election brewing, and one of the hot-button issues is immigration.
If the impetus behind a new immigration policy is the desire to have a safer country and to protect us from foreign terrorists, I'm all for that. But keep in mind that one of the worst acts of terrorism ever committed in this country – the Oklahoma City bombing – was perpetrated by American citizens. So, don't forget to keep us safe from American bad guys, too.
If the reason behind a desire for new immigration laws is the sentiment that undocumented workers are taking jobs away from American citizens, that's a tougher argument. We don't have a high unemployment rate now. Maybe I just don't hang out in the right places, but I've never heard anyone say, "I tried to get a job picking crops, but there were no openings because of all those 'illegal immigrants.'" I've also never heard, "I really want a job in one of those garment sweatshops, but those undocumented workers have that whole profession sewn up."
Obviously, immigration is a complex issue. But I know the answer isn't announcing new laws written by people who admit they're unenforceable. But just think if the President and Congress had said, "We are not going to take a vacation until we agree on an immigration policy that we can all live with, that makes sense, and that's enforceable." If they had to postpone their vacations until they came up with something like that, they'd have agreed on a law faster than you can say, "All in favor, say 'Aye.'"
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier."
By Lloyd Garver