Friday, November 24, 2006

Whistling Past the Huddled Masses

Should we seek definitive solutions to contemporary problems?

Must we solve for all time the crises that plague us in the moment?

Or should we solve present-day conundrums now?

Peggy Noonan thinks out loud:
Immigration in Lincoln's day was open and legal. Now it is open in effect because overwhelmingly illegal in practice. If you want to come across the border, you can, essentially, come. You make the decision about what is best for you; America does not make the decision as to what is best for it. Both Congress and the White House, our official deciders, will likely do in the next session what they did in the last: spend a lot of time trying to confuse people into thinking they're closing the borders without actually closing them. There will be talk again of fences, partial fences, fencelike entities and virtual fences. While they dither and mislead, towns and cities will continue to attempt to make their own immigration policy.

You know the facts. Immigrants are here in huge numbers, unlawfully, in the age of terror. They swell the cost of local life--emergency rooms, schools--which has an impact on local taxes. There are towns and cities that feel, and are, overwhelmed. And no one will help them.

The essential reason, I think, is that America's elites don't want America's borders closed. Businesses want low-wage workers; intellectuals are wed to global visions of cross-border prosperity; politicians want Hispanic loyalty and the Hispanic vote. It's not convenient for any of them to close the borders. If Americans on the ground are enduring difficulties over this, it's . . . too bad. This is further eroding America's already eroding faith in its institutions.

I think there are two unremarked elements of the debate that are now contributing to the government's inability or refusal to come up with a solution.

The problem is not partisanship. It is not polarization, not really. Sentiments on this of all issues in the nation of immigrants are and would be complicated, nuanced. The problem is doctrinaire-ness. Even as both parties have become less philosophical, less tied to their animating philosophies, they have become more doctrinaire. The people who should be solving the immigration problem are holding fiercely to abstractions--to big-think economic theory, to emanations of penumbras in the law--instead of facing a crucial, concrete and immediate challenge.

The second element is definitiveness. Our political figures say they have to concentrate on an overall, long-term, comprehensive answer to the immigration problem. So they huff and puff about the long-term implications of this move or that, and in the end they do nothing.

They are like people in a burning house who sit around discussing the long-term efficacy of various kinds of water hoses while the house burns down around them.

Elites can protect themselves from the unintended consequences of their sacred cows. The Everyman can't. Elites can ignore the economic, social and cultural complications that unfettered illegal immigration impose on communities. They can afford to play the ideologue or the cynical pragmatist. Unfortunately, their posture at standing on principle costs ordinary people not so fortunate or blessed.

Including illegal immigrants.

Those here illegally live in fear of being discovered. They may become trapped in a black-market economy in which they work at wages well below fair-market. Their children face obstacles to securing financial aid for higher education. Yes, some exploit the US' social services. Many, however, simply seek to make an honest living. The circumstances of their entry into the country immeasurably complicate this simple desire.

Meanwhile, who asks legal immigrants how they feel about others illegally enjoying the benefits of residence? Legal immigrants have to wait for VISAs and sponsorships. They jump through infuriating bureaucratic hoops in order to legally live in the US. Meanwhile, people that had the fortune of living on the same continental land mass as the US enter the US without undergoing those rigors. Should any of us wonder when some legal immigrants ask, "Why bother?"

Never mind the struggles communities face when illegal immigrants settle down there. School overpopulation, stress on health care institutions--and the corresponding increase in local property taxes--represent the tip of the iceberg.

Our society can't afford the selfish blindness that our national leadership--from both political parties--demonstrates. The people of the United States--all people--deserve far better.

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