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Reforming the Reform Process Before Reforming Immigration and Education

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On Wednesday I interviewed New York Times’ columnist David Brooks on the immigration reform/education reform debate.  That transcript is here.

A day earlier I interviewed and was interviewed by Newsweek’s David Freedlander on the same subject.  That transcript is here.  Ditto AEI’s James Pethokoukis and the Wall Street Journal’s David Feith.

I have interviewed Congressman Raul Labrador (transcript here) and Senators Marco Rubio (transcript here) and Jeff Flake (transcript here) about the immigration-education connection, and will today talk with one of the nation’s highest profile legal immigrants Mark Steyn about the same. That conversation too will end up on the transcripts page.

Of the folks interviewed thus far–electeds, pundits, reporters, analysts—only one, Feith, had thought about the obvious, inescapable connection between immigration reform and education reform.

Here’s the interesting thing: The connection between the two issues is obvious to anyone upon reflection, as it was to everyone I interviewed when I raised it, and yet no one had really considered it in the context of the debate shaping up –because the debate has been shaped by Manhattan-Beltway media elites to be about left v. right and the president v. the Republicans.

Here’s the real debate:  Beltway elites have decided on a very narrow definition of what the problem is and are trying to make each other happy so that a deal can emerge that satisfies the narrow range of interests they have heard from on the issue.  The staffs of the elected are pretty lazy about doing genuine staff work, and the “journalist” class doesn’t even read the interesting stuff like Feith’s piece much less create their own original reporting.

Data bases like that created by, with its three dozen immigration-related studies categorized and made easil accessible, are largely ignored by the legion of individuals connected with the legislation-drafting, and those folks –the staffers—may be the very same people who produced one of the most mangled bills in the last decade, the 2007 Senate bill with its infamous Z Visa provisions which would have basically operated to invite 60 million new people into the country without regard to their skills, their backgrounds, and without any attempt to secure the border with proven technique such as double fencing.

The situation is ripe for resolution, particularly because the prospect of raising 1 million plus children who are not in the country legally in a culture of law-indifference and terrible schools should alarm everyone, as should the fact that 4.5 million other American children have one or both parents in the country illegally, another invitation to young people to assume every day that indifference to law is normal.  I will have to ask my friend Bill Schambra over at Hudson where he specializes in the civil renewal what the long term impact is on civil society of not just the 1 million, or the 4.5 million, or the 11 million but the tens of millions more living for years in a culture of widespread indifference to law.  My guess –just a guess—is that  lawlessness is effectively minimized as a negative behavior.

That’s a guess, but I know for a fact, confirmed with my interview with Juan Rangel, the CEO of the UNO Charter Schools Wednesday, that children in the country who are either not illegal themselves or who have at least one parent who is not here legally end up in the very worst schools, effectively creating an underclass and cementing it into place permanently.

So how to proceed when the “solutions” people tasked with designing the answer and writing the legislation are so clearly unprepared to deal with the obvious side issues connected with a major issue that must be addressed?

The president should have long ago asked his Pentagon planning staff to develop and run a set of proposals for regularizing 11 million people quickly, with concern for security and for the education of children as a top priority.  Somewhere in the shelves of the Pentagon there are post-war post-occupation reviews of what was done with Europe’s displaced persons.  Somewhere in the building there are experts on civilian education system.  There are drawers and drawers of stuff on securing borders.  Mostly there are just tons of smart staff officers who are used to running simulations.

Define the problem and let them propose some detailed solutions for the civilian “law-makers” and their staffs to chew over. 

Proposed “Memo fromt he President to General Dempsey”: “By 2/28, please provide for me your staff’s best suggestions on how to quickly secure the southern border, certify that security using easily identified metrics, and upon such certification the design of a to process for conferring regularization status the 11 million current residents in the country without authorization, a process that must provide necessary background checks.  This last component must include proposals for placing the 1 million children in that cohort and their 4.5 million siblings who have legal status into the nation’s school systems in such a way as to effect education reform generally while also providing an opportunity for those children to thrive.  Please put your proposals into the form of legislative language for the consideration of the civilian side of the Administration and the Congress.”

At the same time that this exercise rolls out, a similar memo should go from Arthur Brooks at the head of AEI and Jim DeMint and Ed Feulner at Heritage to their organizations and from Strobe Talbot at Brookings and Kenneth Weinstein at Hudson to theirs.  The subject is too important to leave to the lousy draftsmen and limited vision elected who are trying to avoid losing their jobs as opposed to generating a decent draft bill for debate.

Maybe it is one of those problems which will not resolve in an era of other than super-majorities, but it seems like one best tackled by divided government and an approach that delivers wins to every group deeply interested in the process and outcome.

One more bit of reading for the genuinely interested in education/immigration reform:  AEI’s Joanne Jacob’s report: Counting on character: National Heritage Academies and civic education.


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