Immigration linkage, real and imaginary

Although the three of us at Power Line have been highly critical of the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration proposal, other conservative commentators whom we respect are supporting the deal. Examples include Ed Morrissey and Dafydd ab Hugh.
We’ll probably be debating this for some time, but for now let me address one of the argument our friend Ed makes:

Here’s the problem with the hard-liner arguments, which amounts to “they’ll never engage the border-security and workplace enforcement portions.” Well, that could be true of any immigration bill, even if it completely matched the conservative position on immigration. It’s an argument that only supports no action whatsoever on illegal immigration, including border controls. In fact, it applies to everything Congress passes. If that’s our concern, it’s an argument for non-engagement in the legislative process — which necessarily works through making compromises that the majority in the end can support.

I consider it unlikely that the government has the will and the skill to secure our border no matter what enforcement package Congress comes up with. However, that’s just my opinion, and one I’d like to be wrong about. Moreover, there are degrees of failure in immigration enforcement. It’s possible that “get tough” legislation, while failing satisfactorily to secure our borders, will produce somewhat better results than the current system does.
For these two reasons, my skepticism is not an argument for not passing “get tough” only legislation at the next opportunity. It is, however, an argument for making no adjustments to the status of illegal aliens, and no promises of additional adjustments, until we see how attempts at enhanced enforcement play out.
The proposed legislation accepts my premise that there should be linkage between the success of new enforcement efforts and a path to citizenship (but it grants an intermediate adjustment of status in favor of the illegals without such linkage). However, the linkage mechanisms are highly suspect. As I understand it, if the government meets bureaucratic goals, such as hiring more government workers, and certifies the success of its own efforts, then it’s full speed ahead for legalizing the lawbreakers.
The proper course, in my view, is to employ a “real world” test for success, not an artificial bureaucratic one. If, against the odds, enhanced enforcment efforts are able to stem illegal immigration to the point that the public (through its legislators) will support adjusting the status of illegal aliens, then the adjustments can proceed. If not, not. The enforcement legislation could include benchmarks for success, but they should not be the last word. Moreover, the benchmarks should be result, not process, oriented. The standard should be the number of new illegal aliens, not the number of new bureaucrats. And the final test should be the public’s view of how we’re doing, not government estimates.
As it stands now, amnesty (or path to citizenship) cannot gain acceptance on its merits, but instead can only be enacted by holding enhanced enforcement legislation as a hostage. But we should not grant citizenship to lawbreakers as the result of this sort of political coercion by the left. If the price for not yielding is no new enforcement legislation right, that’s a price worth paying since, as I said, it’s unlikely that such legislation would make very much difference and thus the price is not steep.
JOHN adds: I agree with Paul, and would add this as well. As I understand the proposed legislation, there is just one thing that would happen immediately: the 12 million or so illegals who are now in the U.S., together with however many can get here over the next six months, can “step out of the shadows” and receive a card that entitles them to stay. News accounts have not been entirely consistent, but I believe the cost of this card will be $1,000. The next steps under the proposed statute, as I understand the press accounts, will relate to employer enforcement and border security. The vaunted “triggers” will have to be met in these areas before the third phase, the path to citizenship, kicks in.
Like Paul, I have little faith in the reliability of the “triggers.” But it strikes me as more important that the illegals now in the country will be, in effect, legalized immediately. While not all of them will go to the trouble of paying $1,000 and getting a card, this matters little, since any appetite for enforcement will disappear once this mechanism is in place. I don’t know whether any of the other stages contemplated by the bill will ever actually come into being. The one thing I’m sure of–again, if my understanding of the statute, based on news accounts, is correct–is that millions of illegals, including a great many who aren’t here yet, will be granted amnesty.
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