Right now President Obama and Congressional Democrats are in the midst of pressing forward on financial reform legislation. Fresh from victory on health care reform, they are not shying away from tough issues in this Congressional election year.
Instead, they are bulldozing on through -- an unusual and brave strategy. Most politicians up for reelection (as is the whole US House and a third of the US Senate) famously put off controversial legislation until the election is over.
Financial reform is something we desperately need. As long the legislation keeps banks from making risky investments such as those that led to the 2008 financial meltdown, and doesn't end up subsidizing bad behavior by banking executives, I'm all for it.
But immigration reform, that's another story. Financial reform is on the front burner, but immigration reform may be up next. Everyone in Washington is trying to guess whether Democrats will cave into the Hispanic lobby and press through "amnesty" or the so-called "pathway to citizenship" for individuals here illegally for quite some time.
Official government estimates are that immigration reform would legalize 12 million illegal immigrants. The path to citizenship would require them to get in line, pay fines and follow the normal bureaucratic route, green card and all. Some think tank experts who follow the issue closely say there are really more like 20 million illegal aliens who would qualify for citizenship under Obama's plan for reform, not the 12 million government figures refer to.
(Link http://www.usamnesty.org/ )
Allow me to say as I always do when I write on this most touchy of issues that it is not individual immigrants I oppose. Most immigrants are good people and hard workers, desperate to escape the lack of economic opportunity in their countries of birth. But massive immigration, both legal and illegal are devastating the U.S. environment and forcing overdevelopment of land and placing massive strains on our natural resources.
Before approving any kind of change to our immigration policy, we need to sit down and take a calm, logical look at the costs and benefits of reform. Society at large benefits when we let in fewer, more highly educated immigrations. We need more doctors, businesspersons, entrepreneurs and hi-tech engineers.
Yet some 80 percent of immigrants to the U.S. do not even have a high school diploma or equivalent. They provide business with cheap labor -- so that's of great benefit to one part of society. But they add billions to the cost of public education and health care, which is an unfair burden on middle-income taxpayers.
If you're wondering why air and water pollution are worse now than they were a couple of decades ago, why commutes are longer and why suburban sprawl now surrounds most of our big cities, look at immigration. Ever since the 1950s, the bulk of population increases in this country have been driven by immigrants and their children.
Our immigration policy should take this country's financial and environmental needs into account first and foremost, but currently it does nothing of the kind.
Pardon me, too, if I'm a bit skeptical that immigration reform will suddenly halt the flow of one million illegal immigrants into this country annually. I covered Congress in the mid-1980s and watched the now-infamous Simpson-Mazzoli bill make its way through both chambers. It was signed by President Reagan in 1986 and is now known as the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
That law made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants and granted amnesty to certain illegal immigrants who entered the United States before 1982 and stayed here continuously.
Guess what else? It granted a "path toward legalization" for seasonal workers who had been in the country for four years. It was supposed to end illegal immigration. Now 24 years later, illegal immigration has increased and we're having the same arguments we had before IRCA. But we're acting like we've never tried to resolve this issue before.
So pardon me if I'm a bit cynical on the immigration reform front. We've been there and done that and there's no need to do it badly once more.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.