Double vision - Bush's hopes for border defining policy

By Sara A. Carter, San Bernadino Sun, May 28, 2006

The nation's top lawmakers are poised for a landmark clash in the coming months on whether illegal immigrants should be given a pathway to citizenship.

A bill passed last week by the Senate would do just that, although a bill passed in December in the House would make it a felony to be in the nation illegally....

At the same time, President Bush's plan to send National Guard troops to the southern border has ratcheted tensions up further, with the decision criticized as either a ploy to placate the president's national-security critics or a way to tacitly militarize the nation's borders....

Why, in a time of heightened concern about national security, have so many illegal immigrants been able to make their way across the border? And why has border security to this point been such a bit player in the government's national-security plans?

The apparent answer: because the government, especially the president himself, wants it that way.

"It seems as though (President Bush) truly rejects the moral legitimacy of immigration enforcement," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. "He is psychologically committed to open borders, and he can't understand why people don't think the way he does."

"The president has all along had a vision of the U.S. and Mexico that stands in contrast to the way the vast majority of the American people think about the issue," added Glynn Custred, a professor of anthropology at Cal State East Bay who specializes in Latin and South American border studies.

"That vision is that there should be a consistent flow of free labor to the north," Custred continued. "If you look at Bush's speeches (and) his proposed legislation, it seems he wants it that way because he thinks it's best for the world."...

Here's what's happened under the government's watch:

* The Border Patrol continues a "catch and release" program that frees most illegal immigrants back into their home countries or into the United States after their detention with few ever facing prosecution. Meanwhile, the border grows more violent by the week, with armed skirmishes between Border Patrol agents and narcotics runners becoming commonplace.

* Mexican military troops have trespassed into the United States more than 200 times since 1996. The U.S. government did not acknowledge the incidents until this year, and no punitive action has ever been taken against Mexico.

* The Border Patrol, mirroring Bush's close relationship with Mexican President Vicente Fox, works closely with Mexican consulates when border crossers are detained, to the point where Mexican authorities are being tipped to the whereabouts of U.S. citizen patrols on the lookout for illegal immigrants.

* Enforcement is virtually nonexistent for laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration by financially penalizing U.S. businesses that hire illegal workers. And a new government tactic - pursuing criminal sanctions against such employers - yielded just 127 convictions in 2005.

* A guest-worker program endorsed by the president would include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which critics argue is a form of amnesty for millions of people who have broken the law.

The conclusion border experts, politicians and government observers have reached: The relative ease with which illegal immigrants enter the country is the result of the Bush administration's philosophy that borders are a thread linking the economies of the Western Hemisphere, not a threat....

Since President Reagan's "one-time amnesty" in 1986, which gave permanent residency to an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants, most of them Mexican, little has changed about border security. Yet the number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S., which was expected to decline after the amnesty, has leapt to somewhere between 12 million and 20 million - an increase of at least 300 percent - based on most estimates.

Illegal entry to the United States is a misdemeanor - and if repeated, a felony - but border crossers are rarely prosecuted. They usually are captured, processed and released either to their country of origin or into the United States under an unwritten policy of "catch and release," a policy the Bush administration has done little to change.

In 2004, nearly 1.2 million illegal immigrants were detained, yet only 17,100 - less than 1.5 percent - were convicted, according to a recent study by the Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which monitors the use of immigration laws....

The administration's apparent lack of concern is putting border states and the nation at risk, lawmen there say.

"I just don't get why the administration doesn't see it," said Sheriff Arvin West of Hudspeth County, Texas. "It's like talking to a brick wall."...

The dearth of employment enforcement is frustrating to immigration observers, many of whom strongly contend that employers - and the government that regulates them - hold the key to ending illegal immigration.

"The first thing that should be done is turning off the magnet of jobs," said the Center for Immigration Studies' Krikorian, but "I believe the administration's philosophy is that there is not a problem."

"The difficulty is that many businesses have come to depend on the cheap labor," said Pitney, the Claremont McKenna professor. "They are the ones that are pressing the Senate and the president for a guest-worker program."...

A recent study by Robert Rector, a senior analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, points to dramatic changes in U.S. population and ethnic makeup within the next 20 years if the Senate's immigration proposal becomes law. If it passes, the study says, nearly 66 million more immigrants will enter the United States and gain legal status by 2026.

"Much attention has been given to the fact that the bill grants amnesty to some 10 million illegal immigrants," Rector said. "Little or no attention has been given to the fact that the bill would quintuple the rate of legal immigration into the United States, raising, over time, the inflow of legal immigrants from around 1 million per year to over 5 million per year....

What seems much clearer is that until at least 2008, when the president leaves office, the Bush administration will continue to try to forge a path to citizenship for millions of people already in the country illegally and build a doorway for millions more.

Fox might have accurately summarized Bush's own philosophy in a January 2001 speech:

"When we think of 2025, there is not going to be a border. There will be a free movement of people, just like the free movement of goods."

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