Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Failure of Ben Nelson's "Border Security First"

by Kyle Michaelis
On the issue of immigration, the new Democratic-controlled Congress brings a new dynamic and new opportunities that should not be lost on Sen. Ben Nelson. Nor should they be wasted in an effort to translate campaign rhetoric like "border security first" into actual public policy when such sloganeering is set to become irrelevant and even vaguely irresponsible the moment the new Congress is sworn into office.

That's why it was so disappointing when, right after the election, the Omaha World-Herald reported:
Sen. Chuck Hagel predicted Wednesday that the new Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill in the next session.

The Nebraska Republican had strongly criticized his fellow GOP lawmakers in September for failing to update immigration law. He said then that it would cost them in the midterm elections....

A[n] extensive bill - influenced by Hagel and favored by Bush - had passed the Senate 62-36, with bipartisan support. But it stalled when a handful of House Republicans blocked negotiations with the Senate.

A spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who voted against the Senate immigration legislation that passed in May, said Nelson still opposes it. Jim Fagin said a change in leadership won't necessarily mean it will fare any better.

"No matter who's in the majority, Sen. Nelson's position is not changed," Fagin said. "He continues to believe, as he always has, that we need to secure the border first and enforce workplace laws before we take any other measures."

Key elements of the bill backed by Hagel and Bush included more Border Patrol agents and customs and immigration enforcement officers; increased border fencing and electronic surveillance; sanctions on employers; and a tiered system under which illegal immigrants could become legal....

Nelson and other opponents call that an amnesty that the American people won't support.

"A pathway to citizenship, amnesty, whatever you want to call it, is too controversial" to pass, Fagin said.

But Hagel called it a realistic approach to dealing with the "12 million illegal aliens" already in the United States.

I have long advocated comprehensive immigration reform, but this summer the New Nebraska Network acknowledged the logic and foresight behind Nelson's call to secure our nation's borders before seeking resolution of the larger problems besetting our immigration policy. Not only did Nelson make a reasonable argument that concerns about national security in the age of terrorism justified divorcing border control from our larger immigration policy, but his position also made sense as something of a compromise between radically different legislation passed by the House and the Senate that Nelson proved correct in predicting would not be reconciled.

Therefore, because of the supposed urgency of our national security concerns and the demands of the American public for at least some sort of action on immigration, Nelson's "border security first" was an entirely honorable campaign theme in 2006 that also made for a useful contrast between Nelson's style of leadership and the prevailing attitudes in the do-nothing Republican Congress. It's time now, however, for Nelson to recognize that the campaign is over and that it's a new day in Washington D.C.

The time has come for comprehensive immigration reform. The leadership is in place and the votes are there to make it a reality. Sure, it will take some work - some finesse - but the American people expect no less. They want action and a Congress that does not deliver will suffer the same fate as its predecessors.

Nelson breaks no promise by adjusting his position to actually reflect the new Congress in which he serves and the new, much-needed reforms that he can still have a hand in developing. In fact, it is a far greater betrayal of everything voters expect Nelson to stand for if he refuses to change his mindset, allowing himself to devolve from an agent of compromise in 2006 to an enemy of progress in 2007.

Nelson and Fagin are correct that amnesty will be controversial, but they are dead wrong if they honestly believe it won't happen anyway. The American public will not and should not celebrate amnesty because it represents the breakdown and failure of the last 20 years of our immigration policy, but the majority understand and accept that some such program is inevitable. All other possibilities are too costly, too uncertain, or too lacking in compassion, actually contributing to the chaos in our current system rather than relieving it.

Like it or not, amnesty is the common sense solution. With comprehensive reform and a firm commitment by the U.S. government that - by securing the border and vigorously enforcing the law - it should never be necessary again - amnesty offers, as Hagel stated, the "realistic approach." At long last, it will establish some sort of order from which progress might finally be made, with precedent and without offending our principles and legacy as a nation of immigrants.

Leaders should be expected to be consistent in their messages and positions. But, we've seen what happens when that gives way to rigidity and inflexibility (i.e. "stay the course"). The playing field has changed, and it's time Nelson wakes to that fact. Neither Democrat or Republican can any longer justify this nation's inaction on immigration. Ben Nelson was elected for just this sort of issue - to work in a bipartisan fashion and to get things done.

"Border security first" was never the answer, but it might, at one point, have been a first step towards a solution. That step is no longer needed. Comprehensive immigration reform can, should, and must be accomplished by the next Congress. As our representative, it would be sad, indeed, if Ben Nelson chooses adherence to an obsolete campaign theme over being our voice in its crafting and doing what's best for this country.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Elisia H. said...

It frustrated me that this past Nebraska election cycle descended into a game of who could talk the toughest on immigration. The candidates are not solely to blame, however--ask the average Nebraskan their opinion on illegal immigration, and you're sure to get an earful.

As Kyle points out, though, amnesty (or whatver you want to call it) really is the only solution that makes sense: "All other possibilities are too costly, too uncertain, or too lacking in compassion..." Yet some candidates spoke as if sending the millions of illegal immigrants back to their countries would be an easy job. Adrian Smith boldy claimed in his immigration plan that "By removing the magnets that attract illegal immigrants and by strengthening law enforcement, millions of illegal immigrants will likely return to their home country voluntarily."

That kind of rhetoric is, to be blunt, pure hogwash. What Mr. Smith and so many others forget to address in this debate is the strong ties of family and community that bind these people to our country. If you went to a country illegally, worked and raised your children there, saw your nieces and nephews raised there, and possibly even your grandchildren, would you return to your home country just because the economic incentives for living in that country disappeared? "Home" is where your family is, not your country of origin. Mr. Smith's solution for this family conundrum is to gut out the 14th amendment. A baby born in the U.S. to parents here illegally would not be a U.S. citizen, if Mr. Smith had his way. So when we round these people up, are we going to send the children to their "home" countries--countries they have never stepped foot in? Let's get realistic, swallow our arguments that amnesty rewards illegal behavior, and start working on a plan that is feasible.

11/29/2006  
Anonymous bruin said...

Kyle - what failure? Nelson and his gag were able to pass a border security first bill that Bush signed into law.

Nelson offered his plan to break the 10 year logjam on immigration. Amnesty proposals were keeping the borders from being secure by killing those bills. as the years passed, the problem got worse.

Enter Ben Nelson - he saw that nothing was happening and lead the way by suggesting breaking it up into two issues - with widespread support for securing the borders we could get that done, then worry about amensty.

Well, it happened. I'd call it a sucess not a failure. Now the Bush Adminsitration is signaling that they dont want to secure the borders - they are blocking implementation of the law Congrss passed.

Nelson doesn't want a repeat of 1986 when Congress gave 1 million people blanket amnesty and promised to secure the borders. look what that got us.

Nelson is clearly pragmatic. He will work now to find a compromise on the immigration policies - but not until the Adminiistration follows through on Congress' intention with the border security law.

Why would anyone want to dangle amensty out there before the borders are secure?- last time they did that - early this year, illegal border crossings went up 30%.

Nelson's plan cracks down on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. that's the next step. Amnesty is not a solution its a cop out.

11/29/2006  
Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

Bruin-

What was passed by Congress and signed by Bush this fall was unenforceable by design. It was a victory for no one, and even Nelson knew better than to claim it as his own. Whatever amnesty proposal eventually passes will have preconditions - no one expects or has suggested anything otherwise. But, right now, too many people are languishing in chaos and uncertainty - from employers to immigration officials to the undocumented workers themselves - and the entire country is paying the price.

We can take real action that might finally stabilize the situation. It would be foolish to delay any longer. This debate needs to happen now. Dismissing amnesty as "too controversial" to pass is just plain thick-headed and destructive.

"Border security fist" was a successful campaign theme. In the last Congress, it was a reasonable compromise position. But, in 2007, it would be a failure as both a message and as public policy.

11/29/2006  
Anonymous bruin said...

Kyle- Nelson has never "dismissed" the amnesty proposals because they were too contorversial - when he says that he is saying that there are many members of Congress who will not accept amensty but there is consensus on border security. So Congress should act on what it can get done. the Shorthand in news articles is challenged when it comes to presenting the entirety of Nelson's message.

Hence his message of "Border Security First" - it wasn't "Border Security Only."

I beleive you have commended Nelson in the past for this pragmatic approach to make progress on what can be done and allwoing more time to debate the clearly contorversial matter of amnesty.

Nelson said that if Congress didn't seperate out the issues nothing would happen. Once they seperated them, they moved forward on Border Security. Nelson was right.

As far as preconditions go - they are comletely unenforceable and they are a tactic that has failed in the past. Nelson, Grassley, Terry and others have warned against making those mistakes again.

Of course, Hagel and Ricketts want everyone to "self-deport" and then apply to come back. Now that's the nuttiest thing ever presented. If people were interested in "self-deportation" what's stopping them now from going back and trying to come here legally?

11/30/2006  
Anonymous Troy T. said...

Poll after poll will tell you that a large majority want no path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

This is just another propoganda item obviously meant to shift opinion and demoralize those who oppose it.

Every day in this state and across the country are mobilizing as we speak to oppose amnesty. A year ago, many of us Nebraskans were sitting in our lazy boys thinking HR 4437 was going to deal the problem, finally. Then the slap in the face came from millions of illegals and their enablers in large corporations.

Every day that goes by is another day that the American people become more informed and more outraged at our governments complete lack of enforcement.

Anyone who votes for amnesty will be commiting political suicide. Just ask our native Nebraska God Tom Osborne about that one!

3/19/2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are urging Ben Nelson to stay strong on Border Security First..No Amnesty! He doesn't need to evolve..he already has a backbone!

3/19/2007  

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