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Second, advocates want serious enforcement of entry laws at the border and away from the border, with focus on the horrors of human trafficking. As it is now, even when the coyotes who smuggle immigrants in across the southern border do get caught, they receive get-out-of-jail-free cards from U.S. Immigration Enforcement, which quickly deports all of the key witnesses. A November 11 Village Voice Media feature story revealed that a Colorado crackdown on traffickers had produced only 87 indictments since an anti-human smuggling law was passed in 2006. The vast majority of those cases were dismissed ultimately for lack of evidence.
But it's not all about illegal crossers. The third plank in the reform platform is a call for a good way into the country for legal immigrants—a pragmatic guest worker program that meets the needs of industry, a rational visa system for highly qualified sought-after immigrants.
Last and not at all least, people seeking comprehensive immigration reform want to create a path to full, legal, tax-paying status and accountability for the law-abiding majority of the 11.1 million persons estimated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be in the country without proper authorization.
The Pew Hispanic Center, a non-partisan research group, estimates that 60 percent of the 11.1 million are from Mexico, another 20 percent from other Latin-American countries.
The essential piece in making it all work is a coin with two sides. First side: Give people an incentive to come out of the shadows and sign up for citizenship. Second side: Create a bulletproof ID system to show who has signed up and who has not. The Schumer bill, in particular, calls for a high-tech Social Security card with a computer chip that can't be faked.
But these kinds of solutions—perhaps because they are pragmatic and wonkish—are all the more infuriating to people like Riddle who regard the presence of undocumented persons as a call to arms, not a call for more computer chips.
In the recent mid-term Congressional election, anti-immigration forces sang a song with two verses—immigrants are crooks, America is for Americans. Candidates including Jan Brewer, the Republican-elected governor of Arizona, Sharon Angle, the Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate from Nevada, and Tom Tancredo, an independent who was defeated in a bid to become governor of Colorado, all portrayed undocumented aliens as criminals.
Together they worked to permanently bond any form of legal status for undocumented persons with the term, amnesty. Amnesty—a kinder, gentler word under Ronald Reagan—was used in the mid-term campaigns to mean letting dangerous criminals off scot-free. And, put that way, nobody likes the idea. Instead, having defined unauthorized immigrants as crooks, the advocates of expulsion want them gone, all 11.1 million.
The cost alone would be staggering. The Center for American Progress, a research group with close ties to the Obama Administration, used numbers from the Department of Homeland Security to estimate that the cost of deporting the 11.1 million would be $285 billion—twice the 2009 costs of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War combined.
Worse than the dollar cost, pushing 11 million people out of our midst would look to the rest of the world like a chapter from the Bible, and not one of the good chapters.
And yet the balance seems to have shifted toward expulsion. Angle and Tancredo may have lost in the November 2 election, but a consensus among insiders is that the animus they represented won. Frank Sharry, founder and director of America's Voice, a liberal immigration advocacy group in Washington, says: "The House of Representatives is now in the hands of radicals who will run the immigration policy. There's no way around it. And they're going to be able to pass anything they want."
Sharry's best hope is that the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, will serve as "the firewall that stands up to the radical shit coming out of the House."
The same general gloom can be heard from more conservative employer-group advocates for reform. Craig J. Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR), which represents employer-farmers, paints a grim picture:
"The solution we stand for and we have been working on with Congress for years," he says, "is a negotiated compromise that the chief labor union in agriculture and the employers all support, but the debate has grown more and more dysfunctional."
Dysfunctional is not necessarily code for Republican, but it could be for Tea. Immigration reform as expressed in the Schumer bill has strong support from many Republicans, who point out that former President George W. Bush came closer to getting a decent bill passed than has President Barack Obama.
The nail-biting is over the new Tea-tinged members of Congress who ran on kick-'em-out platforms. Two in particular will have solid control of immigration reform when the new House is seated in January. U.S. Representative Lamar Smith from the San Antonio area in central Texas will become chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Representative Steve King from western Iowa will be chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, making the pair the House's two main gatekeepers for immigration law.