Originally Published: January 26, 2004 7 a.m.
Maybe I'm missing something, but President Bush's proposed program to legitimize immigrants working illegally in the U.S. has inspired much ado about nada.
Conservatives are prickly because, they say, illegals are robbing American jobs. And because illegals are, well, illegal.
Liberals are offended because they say Bush is merely creating an underclass of cheap labor, as though we don't already have exactly that. Except that presently it is also an illegal underclass.
And illegals are unhappy because they're not getting enough under the proposed program.
Excuse me for being so sane, but when did illegal aliens get to gripe about the size of their benefits package?
Bush, meanwhile, is happy because he gets to ratify his conservative compassion, attract Hispanic voters and feel virtuous as he waxes about our proud immigration heritage.
Some of what illegals would get in exchange for their Juan Hancock are worker benefits, legal protection, freedom to travel between Mexico and the U.S. without fear of deportation, and a stake in our fabulous Social Security program. What they wouldn't get is amnesty and a fast track to citizenship.
All things considered, I'd say that's a pretty swell deal for people who are breaking the law and who, alternatively, could be deported.
The Bush plan arguably has some logical merit. It seems reasonable to stop pretending that we don't have several million people working here illegally. It also seems fair that people who are working here should be protected in the usual ways.
Even if one agreed philosophically with decriminalizing human beings who merely want to live and work here, some of Bush's details seem a little fuzzy. In order to deflect criticism that illegals are taking away jobs from Americans, for example, he stipulates that employers "make every reasonable effort to find an American worker for the job at hand." Oh, OK.
Also under Bush's plan, qualified aliens would be signed up for a three-year work permit, then expected to go home. Given that they didn't head home when their previous visas expired, why are they going to play by the rules this time around?
Ah, the grand incentive: They'll get to reap benefits accrued from their Social Security payments and individual retirement programs. Marvelous to consider, isn't it? Three years of subsistence wages plucking chickens and an early retirement. No wonder they flock to our borders.
Which is exactly the point of critics from the illegal side. Without the promise of amnesty or the incentive of citizenship, many simply will opt not to participate. To remain illegal. To live in the shadows where bureaucrats with databases can't find them.
Nobody said they were dumb. But a voluntary program that relies on the rule-abiding goodwill of illegal aliens who feel entitled to a better deal may be.