Losing control

The U.S. has been losing control of migration to our country for half a century or more. I don’t think we’ve lost additional control under President Trump, but I doubt we have gained much.

Thus “Losing Control” is the perfect title for Jerry Kammer’s new book about immigration. Kammer is a reporter who has covered immigration issues for decades. He describes himself as a “liberal restrictionist” when it comes to immigration. He favors clear limits on immigration and enforcement of those limits, but supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a generous amnesty if Congress can ensure enforcement.

Kammer acknowledges that this is a big “if.” His book demonstrates just how big. It shows that the key to enforcement is a system that stops employers from hiring illegal immigrants. It also shows that all attempts to implement such as system have been thwarted by a coalition of left-wing activists and conservative business interests.

Perhaps the most telling example is Operation Vanguard. This program was launched after the Nebraska and Iowa delegations to the U.S. House complained to the Obama administration about the explosion of illegal immigrants in the two states. Schools were being overrun, the health care system was being overrun, etc.

Operation Vanguard was the response. It was an effort to shut off the illegal immigration magnet at meatpacking plants in Nebraska and Iowa. Audits identified 4,000 or so apparently undocumented workers. INS agents scheduled them for interviews. About 3,000 of them failed to show up, and lost their jobs.

The meatpacking industry was not amused by this loss of inexpensive labor. Companies complained to their representatives. Soon the administration was under pressure to put Operation Vanguard on ice from the same delegations whose complaints had led to the program. On ice, it went.

Losing Control is divided into three parts. The first part is the backstory of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). It charts the political and cultural cross-currents of the debate that produced this fateful legislation.

The second part examines the institutions and organizations — media, liberal foundations, immigration activist groups, environmental movements, etc. — that became part of the coalition that undermined the enforcement half of IRCA. Naturally, the Southern Poverty Law Center figures prominently here, but Kammer discusses less obvious players, as well. I found this part of the book particularly fascinating.

The third part is the story of the slow motion unraveling of IRCA. In separate chapters, Kammer looks at immigration enforcement and its failures in five administrations. He concludes with an epilogue that examines the immigration politics of the Trump era.

Losing Control comes in at 345 pages. If it seems repetitious at times, that’s because history kept repeating itself during the decades covered by the book. Activists and employers kept blocking immigration enforcement. Their will to resist exceeded the will of the majority to see our laws enforced.

Thwarted during administration after administration, the will to enforce finally helped lead to the election of Donald Trump. But, as Kammer shows, Trump backed away from worksite enforcement.

During the campaign, he pledged full implementation of E-Verify, the computer-based system that enables employers to check workers’ legal status. He hasn’t followed through. Instead, says Kammer, Trump has opted for the business friendly approach advocated by Jared Kushner.

Losing Control is not uplifting, but it’s worthwhile reading for anyone interested in a comprehensive account of America’s failure to manage immigration.

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