Friday, May 18, 2007

The Too-Easy Compromise


Yesterday's compromise on immigration reform means that it is likely that some bill will pass before the end of President Bush's term. The White House wants guest workers and a wall; the Democrats want to legalize all workers and end the segmented labor market that's been taking jobs away from citizens and driving down wages; and the nativist nuts were at home calling Lou Dobbs. Finally, the program Bush was announcing in joint meetings with Mexican President Vicente Fox, just before 9/11, is back on track. The bi-partisan agreement, said to be 360 pages, is supposed to allow 400,000 guest workers, legalize everyone who is now here, change new entrance criteria to favor skills over family ties, and prevent anything from happening until the border between Mexico and the USA will make the Berlin Wall look like a quaint Lego project.

The problem with all this is that there is no principled spokesperson in the Congress and even in the human rights community who will stand up for free movement. A couple of weeks ago I was watching a woman from the ACLU on Bill O'Reilly's show debate him on the legalization of alien residents. He said something like, "So, what's your position on a wall? I bet you're opposed to that, too, and think it's okay for anyone to come into the country." The correct answer is, "Yes, of course that's what I think; walls are for medieval kingdoms, not 21st century democracies." But the nervous lawyer avoided repeated prompts on the topic and instead repeated the ACLU's official line on legal status for aliens.

Of course this is a position that will lose them support, but not from the nativists, who are not exactly card-carrying ACLU members. And at least a principled statement on behalf of cosmopolitanism might educate some liberals about the limits of their tolerance. What is liberal about allocating the ability to make the simplest choice about where to live a matter of birthright?
(image from Steve Fazio)

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