I had a chance to spend some time with Michael Barone on Thursday, and two weeks earlier when he was in California. barone is a vacuum cleaner of all data political. Today he summarizes the immigration issue, as well suggesting the way forward, and he is exactly on target. (I have been urging this solution on Republicans for some time, and there is a chapter on it in Painting the Map Red, but Barone is writing to Democrats as well):
The route to agreement is to give all of these conviction politicians much of what they want. A fence, high-tech border-security and identification devices, some compromise on guest workers and legalization — all could be part of an omnibus measure. As for the calculation politicians, as they try to assess the political landscape and reconcile the seemingly contradictory findings of various polls, they appear to be coming to the conclusion that inaction — or blocking action now that the issue is so visible — poses a higher political risk than taking action.
Voters understandably believe we should have better border security and should do something about the 12 million illegal immigrants in our midst. Neither Congress nor President Bush has acted in five years. Maybe, just maybe, they’re on the brink of doing so now.
On Saturday night inD.C. I heard a briefing on broder security from a senior career member of the Border Patrol. As he ran through the three “zones” of enforcement technique –“urban,” “rural” and “remote”– he projected pictures of the fencing which has dramatically reduced immigration in urban areas. He called it “pedestrian fencing” and noted that such devices were necessary because if an illegal entrant gets across the border in the urban area, there is only a matter of minutes or even seconds until that person vanishes into the community. He or she has to be deterred and delayed at the border, so a real fence (or fences in layers) is necessary.
What the spokeman never answered is why such fences –again, they are effective– do not extend outward from their urban beginnings.
In the days before a consensus emerged, the answer might have been budget, but there is zero argument based on budget restriction now. Any poliician arguing we can’t spend what it takes to fence would be laughed out of the room.
The idea of adverse symbols is similarly silly. We already have dozens of miles of fences, and the rhetoric of the open border extreme is already super-heated. Comapring a fence to keep illegal entrants out to the Berlin Wall is simply a quick indicator of a silly person.
There might be some resistance from within the Border Patrol community, who realize that low tech, effective fencing diminishes the need for high tech devices and expanding numbers of agents, but, again, no one makes that argument.
And if business really wants an assured supply of labor, it has to realize that the high fence-wide gate approach is the best path to that goal.
So, authorize the fence. When it is complete, regularize the illegal population in the U.S. upon fulfillment of negotiated conditions.
This isn’t hard, or complicated. Barone is right: Give everyone their priorities, and get on with it.