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Greg Bell: The United States is flaky on immigration

Migrants have their names checked by immigration officials as they board a bus that will take them to the city of Monterrey, outside at an immigration center on the International Bridge 1, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Tuesday, July 16, 2019.
Migrants have their names checked by immigration officials as they board a bus that will take them to the city of Monterrey, outside at an immigration center on the International Bridge 1, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Tuesday, July 16, 2019.
Salvador Gonzalez, AP

You know the guy who ignores parking tickets, IRS warning letters and water turn-off notices. He loses his house to tax liens, he may even go to jail and his wife divorces him because he lives a flaky life. He never seems to learn that if you don’t take care of business yourself, someone else will do it for you in a way you won’t like.

The United States is that flaky guy on immigration. We now suffer the fate of all procrastinators and deniers. Despite late notices and warning tickets, we refused to face the music. We dawdled, avoiding the political pain.

Shame on our leaders for failing us. Shame on us for making it politically too hard for them to take action along the way.

With the Great Recession, unemployed Americans felt like jobs were being taken away by illegal residents. That resentment boiled up as part of the rise of the Tea Party. Then our leading populist rode that anger to election and has been wreaking havoc ever since.

Because of the political stalemate on immigration, we are left with extreme and unworkable partisan positions on the left and the right. President Donald Trump has shown incredible insensitivity to the people suffering under some of his policies. The racism, xenophobia and inhumane treatment of illegal residents and attempted entrants he has engendered falls far below American ideals. But the Progressives’ call for open borders and similar ideas is madness.

There are fundamental principles that most Americans agree with.

Secure borders

The United States, like every sovereign nation, must have secure borders. We should decide who and what comes into our country, whom to grant asylum, whom to give visas for travel, study or work. Drug dealers, terrorists and criminals want to come to the U.S., and we have to stop them. Nor can we possibly accommodate every person who arrives at our borders wanting entry.

The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over immigration. The U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 8 vests in Congress the duty over immigration and naturalization of citizens. Congress has defaulted in that constitutional duty. Trump is only doing his job to insist that the federal government take control of our borders and immigration.

We allowed millions of noncitizens to live here to our economic benefit. Somewhere around 11-12 million people live in the U.S. in large part because enforcement of immigration laws has been so lax. Half of them came legally but overstayed their visas or permits. Regardless, we have mostly looked the other way because we were too squeamish to allow enforcement of immigration laws and we benefited from cheap immigrant labor. They are among those who mow our lawns, build our homes and buildings, clean our hotel rooms and cook our food. It has been a wink-wink proposition. It also follows age-old norms of how mature societies work. As the growth of our native population wanes and fewer of our citizens are willing to do entry-level work, we have turned to immigrants who have been willing to do that work. Of course, they’ve married and had families, and their children attend our schools, taste the good life and become de facto citizens. We the citizens have let this happen and benefited from it. Now we refuse to own our part in it.

Dreamers won’t be deported. America is not going to deport Dreamers. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

Earned permanent status or citizenship

The Right has got to concede that some subset of current illegal immigrants should be granted permanent status or citizenship, as should those who serve honorably in the military, pay taxes and live law-abiding lives. No Republican politician can safely say the “A” word — amnesty. We the people have to make it safe for Republicans to deal with this issue. Likewise, we must make it safe for Democrats to talk about secure borders and reasonable immigration enforcement.

Condemning Trump for his handling of immigration is easy; there’s a lot to criticize. But if you’re not willing to compromise on the core issues of secure borders, paths to permanent status, recognizing the need to help Dreamers stay here, you are only magnifying the problem you accuse Trump of bungling.