If President Barack Obama puts immigration reform at the top of his priority list, Congress should muster the courage to stop him.
Obama risks slicing the number of Americans who trust the federal government from the already dismal 22 percent -- as determined by a Pew Research poll -- to something approaching negative numbers. And for good reason, because our federal immigration policy is not only broken, it's hypocritical.
Obama's idea of immigration reform is legalizing those who entered the United States illegally -- after payment of a fine, and other inconveniences -- while lessening border enforcement.
Witness Obama's response when asked in a 2008 presidential debate if he supported the Bush policy of building a border fence: "I will reverse that policy." As president, Obama has stopped construction on the border fence, though more than 250 miles of it remains unbuilt. His latest budget eliminates the positions of 180 Border Control officers, and cuts $70 million from the fund used to reimburse states for their costs in incarcerating aliens. His Department of Homeland Security has been reluctant to conduct large-scale immigration raids on workplaces.
The nation has tried something like the Obama policy already. It was called the Simpson-Mazzoli Act.
Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Simpson- Mazzoli was supposed to end most of the problems associated with illegal immigration by legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already here while toughening the border and enforcing employer sanctions. The legalization happened, and then some, but the border has remained porous and the employer sanction enforcement sporadic.
For 24 years now!
So say what you will on immigration -- and pretty much everybody does -- our current policy is nonsensical. We have two sets of immigration rules: one for the law-abiding immigrants, who wait their turn in line, and another for the law-breaking, while efforts to respect the law and those immigrants who follow it are derided in extremely insulting terms.
Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said of Arizona's new enforcement policy, "We're going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we're going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law." Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said, "Arizona's draconian new immigration law is an abomination -- racist, arbitrary, oppressive, mean- spirited, unjust." Congressman Jared Polis, D-Colo., said the Arizona law "is absolutely reminiscent of second-class status of Jews in Germany prior to World War II."
Obama said Arizona's enforcement of federal law threatens "to undermine basic notions of fairness." If a law is important enough to have it is important enough to enforce. The reverse is also true, yet few of those who essentially say it's inherently racist, oppressive, unfair or Nazi-like to enforce our immigration laws are lobbying for or sponsoring legislation in Congress for open borders.
This inconsistency -- it is not too strong a word to call it hypocrisy -- has gone on for decades despite significant public discontent, with the result that the states are beginning to take matters into their own hands.
In Arizona, a whopping 70 percent of likely voters support the new state law, according to a Rasmussen poll.
A half-dozen other states or more are considering following in Arizona's footsteps if court challenges by special interest groups and possibly by the Obama administration are settled in Arizona's favor.
Frustrated state officials are taking action by enforcing Washington's laws.
Maybe if the states continue to act, Congress and the Obama administration will finally get serious about enforcement -- or they will stop being hypocrites and simply admit they support an open border.
At this point, either option would be an improvement.
Ridenour is vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank in Washington; Web site: www.nationalcenter.org.