Something remarkable is occurring in our government these days. I thought I had seen nearly everything in fifty years, but I have to admit that I have never seen anything like what is happening (or not happening) with illegal immigration.
Americans - who send senators and representatives to Congress and put a president in the White House - are getting an in-your-face lesson on who is really running things, and what we can do with any objections. (It recalls a crude expression from the old neighborhood that I shall not repeat, for the sake of delicacy.)
The American people now understand, at a minimum, this about illegal immigration:
(1) Previous immigration-law "overhauls" of 1965 and 1986 - both masterminded by Senator Edward "Pancho" Kennedy - have produced the current presence of between 12 and 20 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
(2) Our border with Mexico is a sieve; thousands of illegals are crossing into America every day with little or no interdiction by federal authorities.
(3) The Executive Branch evidently has no intention of stopping the flow and is playing games to fool the American public.
(4) There is no serious plan to arrest the employment of illegal immigrants.
(5) All promises about how the new immigration legislation working its way through Congress will get really (really, really!) tough on the borders are entirely worthless.
(6) A giant amnesty (by any other name) for 12-20 million illegals currently here will certainly encourage an even greater flood of new illegal immigrants.
Commentators and politicians cite various polls to argue that most Americans want current illegals "regularized". But those polls invariably show that 60-70% of us want the flow of illegals stanched before citizenship or legal status are granted to those who have sneaked in.
Clearly, the million-a-year illegal flood is continuing unabated. Equally clearly, the Bush administration has no plans to stop it, notwithstanding its earnest declarations. We know this because actions (or inactions) speak louder than words. On October 26, 2006, the president signed a law authorizing a 700-mile fence to guard one-third of the Mexico/USA border. Today - seven months later - how much of that fence has been built? Answer: 2 miles. Two miles! How hard is it to build such a fence? Answer: Not very hard - even if it has two or three layers of wire, with sensors, lights and towers.
Why hasn't the fence gone up in a few months? The answer can't be that the construction is too difficult. Instead, it indicates a cynicism beyond the comprehension of most Americans of any political stripe. A child could see that Mr. Bush doesn't want the fence because he doesn't want illegal immigration stopped. (No other theory fits the fact of two miles built in seven months.)
Mr. Bush signed this legislation for political expediency, just before the November elections. He has delayed any serious work on the fence because he expected the new Democratic majority to undo the legislation. (Why build it, if we'll only have to tear it down later?)
We're receiving a civics lesson here on the limits of our three-branch system of government. This is the boundary where the system breaks down. Citizens who thought a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the president was a "contract" on behalf of the people can now see that it is nothing of the kind. Indeed, if the president does not carry out a law, through the agencies of the executive branch, it is as if it was never passed.
Such a failure to "execute the laws of the United States" - which the president swears to do in his oath of office - is a "high crime" of the kind the Constitution mentions as grounds for the president's impeachment and possible removal from office. This is a very difficult path, of course - attempted only twice by the Congress, and never completed successfully. Two-thirds of the Senate must agree that the president is guilty of charges brought by the House of Representatives in order to unseat him. How likely is that when the Senate has itself been complicit in passing a law it hopes the president will not enforce?
In the 40th Congress (1867-'69), a Republican Senate-majority of 57-9 still failed (by one vote) to convict the unpopular Andrew Johnson over the Tenure of Office Act. The House impeached Bill Clinton in 1998 for jury-tampering and perjury in a court of law - both serious crimes over which he ultimately lost his law-license in Arkansas - but the Senate fell far short of the votes required to convict him. Some historians think Richard Nixon would have been impeached and removed from office, had he not resigned, but others (including yours truly) believe it is far from clear that enough senators would have voted to take this drastic step.
On illegal immigration, Mr. Bush can stick his thumb in the eye of the voters with no fear, except that his party might be ruined. (Obviously he is not losing much sleep on that score.) Since he can't run for another term, he is untouchable, except by impeachment or through the courts. The former remedy we have seen to be impractical. As to the latter - the courts have not yet tried, so far as I am aware, to "order" the president to enforce a law he has failed to enforce (or enforced inadequately). Constitutional lawyers will ponder whether this can be done, but fifth-grade students of the Constitution can tell you that neither action is in the Supreme Court's purview.
The obfuscation surrounding illegal immigration is not all on the president's side, however. The Senate is notorious for being unresponsive to what large majorities of the voters seem to want, and is manifestly so on this issue. This is partly because of how the Senate is constructed. Each state has two senators, so smaller states wield disproportionate weight. Wyoming (pop. 515,000) has as much influence in the Senate as California (36.5 million). This means that the 26 smallest states, representing only 58 million people (about 20% of the country), could form a working Senate majority. This rarely happens, but it is possible. The imbalance explains why the Senate opposes voter-majorities on some issues.
The time until next election for individual senators is also a factor. Only one-third of all sitting senators face the voters in any given election. These realities often affect a senator's vote. Constituents might remember an unpopular senatorial vote at the next election, but often forget it by the second or third biennial cycle. Thus, senators often feel freer to exercise independent judgment on issues when their next election cycle is two or four years off.
Finally, senators nor representatives don't consider issues "in a vacuum". Members of both houses know a substantial majority of Americans oppose illegal immigration, but they also feel heat from powerful, well funded business and political interests that don't want the flow of poor, low-skilled immigrants stopped. Some businesses use illegal workers directly, but others see illegals as a means for depressing wages, generally. Both political parties hope to convert illegal immigrants into legal voters who will lean their way.
Clearly, both of these factors are motivating Mr. Bush to let the flood of illegals continue, while he tries to deceive voters into thinking he will do the opposite. It gives me no pleasure to charge that a president I supported is practicing deception, but if the shoe fits, wear it.
The American people are at their wits' end over illegal immigration. Senators and representatives are sent to Congress to represent the people's interests, but they often end up representing special interests who can fund their campaigns or boost their careers.
Politicians expect hordes of illegals to mount marches and public protests to secure their "civil rights", but they are pretty sure that ordinary Americans who work, pay their taxes and obey the laws will not take to the streets and make a scene. Perhaps it is time to teach our supine lords that they are mistaken about this. Enough is enough.