As I write, here are some of the latest headlines: "Looming Budget Fight Could Doom Immigration Reform"; "Cecilia Munoz: Quarterback of Obama's Immigration Reform Efforts," and "Immigration Reform Supporters Ask for Help From Businesses."
Does any serious person believe there was ever a chance for "sweeping immigration reform," as it was called with a repetition of a bubblegum rock station playlist? I know, I know: This was how the GOP would save itself from extinction as demographic trends appear to shift against old, bitter, suburban and rural white people. Thus, at least in the minds of the oblivious D.C. pundits depicted with such savage accuracy in the new book This Town, wealthy Republican Sen. John Sidney McCain III would reclaim his mantle as a statesman, a maverick, and herd his party to a deal with President Obama.
But this failed the smell test from the start. Even McCain, who at certain points in his career had favored immigration reform (when he didn't and vice versa), kept prattling on about "a secure border" being the foundational element of any deal. After an amendment to the so-called Gang of Eight's immigration bill in the Senate, McCain said, "We'll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall." It says something about today's pretzel of a Republican Party that the once despised symbol of oppression ("Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!") is now offered as reassurance against an invasion of Brown People. And all that to get a deal that would somehow raise Republican favorables among voting Brown People. Next step: President Rubio!
This was never going to work.
First, the problem of illegal immigration is highly complex, but is inextricably tied to our appetites for cheap, exploitable labor. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that this population in 2011 numbered about 11 million. These people are here, even though deportations rose substantially under St. Janet (who also prioritized criminal deportations, supported the DREAM act for students and improved conditions at detention centers). And the demand remains, including organized efforts by American businesses to bring illegal workers. Why would any of these actors support an onerous "path to citizenship" or "guest worker program"? Both would have to be relatively easy and transparent, or the black market would continue.
Second, when I was younger, the border was nearly as porous as it had been since the Gadsden Purchase finally settled the line between Mexico and the United States. The newcomers, who want Des Moines in the Desert, have no understanding of the history that came before they arrived. Now, it is heavily militarized. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent. This has been good money for defense contractors and other companies. But for what? The cheap labor and drugs keep flowing one way, and the arms and cash flow the other. Really slowing this cycle on the illegal labor front would require going after the employers, with hard prison time for the chief executives of, say, prominent food processors. But that's never going to happen. So the "secure border" seems to be about ensuring Military Keynesianism for favored companies and, as McCain's Berlin Wall comments imply, reassuring the Krackpot base.
Third, that hardcore base is running the House of Representatives and there's no chance an immigration bill can pass. Speaker Boehner won't bring forward a bill without a majority of the Republican caucus behind it. And I doubt even the most punitive bill would collect enough votes from GOP members — and the more harsh it becomes, the less likely Democrats will be to support it, or for the final dog's breakfast to survive the conference with the Senate. The hardcore base does not care if Lindsey Graham worries about the future of a party that received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election. It is not willing to listen to big Republican business donors that want immigration rules changed to further drive down wages. This is a base of belief, and one of those beliefs is that illegal immigrants, especially Hispanics, are the most heinous of lawbreakers, living off welfare, bringing drugs and crime in train. That any change in their status would be "amnesty." "What part of illegal don't you understand?" Many older Anglos are afraid, longing for a certain past. The more alert members on the right are working hard to limit the franchise, to perpetuate Anglo political control in the states of the New Confederacy with large Hispanic populations. They may be Kooks and even bigots, but they are highly disciplined and true believers. Plus, they have never forgotten how SB 1070 was very good politics in Arizona (and, gosh, they tell us the economy there is one of the best in the country!). The immigration plan is DOA.
We face so many serious problems in this country, including 12 million officially unemployed and millions more stuck in part-time and dead-end jobs while the ranks of the working poor keep rising. The nation's total immigrant population, legal and illegal, reached a record 40 million in 2011. And it's not as if we have the growing economy or the will to fund education to intelligently and humanely (dare I say it) assimilate and offer opportunity for the poorest and least skilled of this cohort. I won't even get into the whole "citizenship" thing — the meth-addled laid-off Anglo garment worker in the South who hates "Mexicans" knows little of citizenship. Meanwhile, we have a cross-border economy, sociology and ecology with Mexico — but now a wall runs through it. On top of that, climate change and other world problems will drive desperate people to developed countries. Have the "debates" of the past several months over "sweeping immigration reform" even attempted to shed light on these issues and questions?
Instead, it's been another confidence game by dSi. And a profitable one for the politicians, their consultants, the lobbyists for big business and the "border security" contractors with their hefty contributions to the pols. Nothing has been accomplished for the public good or the national interest. The federal government is lawlessly spying on citizens to a degree unheard-of during the worst of J. Edgar's abuses. Endless and undeclared war continues. Billions flushed into Afghanistan and now Syria — who needs teachers or Amtrak. So you're working two jobs and still need food stamps? Too bad, loser, we need that money as farm subsidies for giant corporations and some gentlemen farmers who are also members of Congress. Wall Street keeps making billions while a company's announcement of a few thousand low-wage jobs makes big news. Destroy evidence about a catastrophic oil spill — get a slap on the wrist. Get caught manipulating the energy market, have your settlement teed up. As immigration reform goes away, new shiny things will be needed to distract the proles as the Republican state legislatures do their will and money never sleeps. Otherwise, people might begin to wonder if the republic is being run by a criminal class.
[UPDATE: Among the comments, be sure to check out Emil's excellent examination of E-Verify and the identification issue.]