Immigration: Senator Lugar Owes Us an Accounting

June 4, 2007

Immigration: Our Tenured Representatives Owe Us an Accounting
Indiana Writers Group column for June 6 and thereafter
639 words

By Craig Ladwig

The problem seemed simple — or at least when we were young and callow fellows.

A few of us staffers met in a Senate cafeteria to hear representatives of a group, now forgotten, express their concern about the U.S.-Mexican border. The group had statistical projections of what the situation would be in 10, 20 and 30 years if nothing were done.

An aide to Indiana’s senior senator was there. Members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations were being asked to help make a relatively easy fix in federal law. It would have minimized the economic incentives driving a spurt in immigration, i.e., citizenship at birth, familial chain migration, three-to-one benefits ratio.

The group’s suggestions were reasonable. The projections were believable. And when we left Washington several months later we expected to be reading that the problem was solved, that order was restored along the border.

That was 1981. The spurt is now a flood, the problem a catastrophe. The predictable economic, political and social chaos resulting from a confused national border is by now obvious to all. More important, we are suffering a crisis of confidence in our government’s ability to ensure that most basic thing a government ensures — justice.

Nations failing to do that don’t do well. Read Arnold Toynbee’s “A Study of History.” Read the Old Testament. Read the 380-page bill introduced in the Senate (more words than the Bible). You will not be encouraged.

The egalitarian elements of the proposed “reform’ would require an Albert Einstein to stand in line behind the extended family of a Yemeni laborer, to use columnist Charles Krauthammer’s example. And the trumpeted promise that immigrants without papers would have to pay back taxes ignores that it will cost more to collect those taxes than they are worth.

How did a situation that could have been resolved 26 years ago with a few signatures on some bureaucratic scrap come to threaten our very national identity?

It’s because the problem was never the problem. The senators knew how to solve it back in 1981. Any staff lawyer could define a border and assign citizenship. The problem was that nobody knew how to solve it without affecting the surety of reelection.

That still is the problem — only it is bigger now, much bigger. Before the Memorial Day recess a Rasmussen poll found that 72 percent of Americans think border enforcement and reducing illegal immigration to be “very important.”

You can tell how big the problem has become by how carefully politicians are treating it as if it were a new problem. It seems to have just dropped out of the sky — like a tornado or some other atmospheric disaster. Politicians seem to like atmospheric disasters; easier to manage than questions of justice and more conducive to spending other people’s money.

The Senate bill in fact treats the border as a demographic disaster zone with its own set of laws, special considerations, accommodations and privileges, all of which must be arbitrated — you guessed it — by those who failed to solve the problem in the first place.

But a problem can get so big that Washington has no choice but to solve it, regardless of politics.

Or not. The ability of ensconced power to ignore change, however profound, may be infinite. Four successive presidents held the power to solve this particular problem with a pen stroke. The one now in office, surprisingly, has taken to blaming us. He said last week that citizens who reject the Rube Goldberg contraption that is his immigration policy “don’t want what’s right for America.”

Stark division produces muddy compromise.

This week Washington will decide it is better for all involved if the problem is solved by our grandchildren. And it is especially better, please know, for those who otherwise would be held accountable for not solving it.

T. Craig Ladwig, editor of The Indiana Policy Review, wrote on immigration and foreign policy for the Kansas City Star and served briefly as a foreign-policy aide to Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum before moving to Indiana. Contact him at


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