Columnists > Voices

Kill the bill

Congress can't unscramble the immigration egg, but others can help digest it

Issue: "Goodbye again," June 9, 2007

Congress and the Bush administration may finally have gotten together to do us a favor. By so much as suggesting that they might pass and then sign into law the immigration bill over which they are now supposedly finding some agreement, they have put the spotlight on something that dare not happen.

There is no immigration bill-not a single possible creation of the present U.S. Congress and administration-that would be better than no immigration bill at all. And the one now before Congress should be opposed on every ground conceivable.

I say that reluctantly, because for a year and more I've been hoping our nation might do something creative, constructive, compassionate, and just about the 12 million people who have reportedly seeped through our borders illegally and taken up some kind of residence here, temporary or otherwise.

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But the longer the squabble goes on-and it's far too juvenile to be dignified by calling it a substantive debate-the more it becomes clear that our elected officials are incapable of doing something that is creative, constructive, compassionate, and just.

Even more embarrassingly, they appear incapable of doing anything even halfway simple. Any new law that runs over 1,000 pages is wrong on the face of it, and should be opposed by any and every honest politician. Who can obey a law nobody will ever, ever read?

So in terms of those immigrants who are already here, just don't pass any new laws at all. Enforce the old laws (if anybody anywhere still has any idea what those old laws are), but don't make matters worse by trying to do something better when you've proven you don't have a ghost of an idea how.

And maybe, while looking over the old laws that could use that new round of enforcement, see if there are perhaps also some friendly ways of encouraging a few of those 12 million people to drink more deeply from the fountain that is so uniquely American. Find some incentives to nudge them toward learning English. Do things that will make them want to be part of us, not separate from us. Assimilate them. It's almost certainly too late to do anything else. Find ways to encourage societal units other than the government (in fact, almost anybody other than the government) to do these things-units like churches, Sunday school classes, youth groups, civic groups, school groups, and other volunteer clusters.

The alternative will be to do unthinkable things. Never in our nation's history have we even thought about removing from among us a group of people of such a size-a population equivalent to that of Ohio or Illinois, and smaller only than the four states of California, Texas, New York, or Florida. Actually doing it would be traumatic. Small and medium-sized businesses, and perhaps even regional economies, would be pulverized. Families would be torn apart-families that right now often show more togetherness and mutual loyalty than so many of our own native family units. It's worth noting that no one opposing so-called "amnesty" has offered a workable plan for rounding up 12 million people and sending them home.

What about the borders? Secure them, of course, as quickly and authoritatively as we can. Welcome through those borders, at the appropriate places, those who demonstrate a right to come and who have their paperwork in order. Tell the others we're sorry, and that they should work toward a legitimate application. And yes, show them that we mean it and enforce that denial.

But look over the cast of characters promoting the current immigration bill, and your heart will sag. Bipartisanship may have its place, but when you honestly can't figure out any longer what anyone's motivation is, it's probably best to back off. This immigration horse we're chasing down is pretty big, to be sure; but as a preacher friend of mine said once in the middle of a church business meeting that had gotten overly complicated, "We've got more harness here than we've got horse."

It's a mess. But no one's ever found a way yet to unscramble an egg. We're far better off to eat this one, get what nourishment we can in the process, and learn from it how to do things better in the future.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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