"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. … Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Last night, President Bush announced his plans for dealing with America’s illegal alien problem. His solution was balanced and moderate, giving to both sides some of what they want. The law and order types were offered National Guard troops on the border, fences, a tougher-to-forge immigrant ID, more border patrol agents, and an end to the “catch and release” policy of Other Than Mexicans. The illegal alien advocates were tossed a couple bones, with a formal “temporary guest worker” program and a forgiveness program for illegal aliens (since it’s not a free and clear pardoning, it’s technically not an “amnesty”).

This plan was very carefully crafted. It throws a lot of red meat to the right, while offering a few sops to the left and middle. It was aimed at the middle of the road, the swing voters, while hoping to not alienate the right and not give new clubs to the left. In short, it was aimed at people like me — a self-described “militant moderate.”

It missed the mark — at least for me.

I’m a moderate, but not a mushy one. I’m a pragmatist, but not one who settles for scraps. There are times when one has to stand on principle, to refuse to split the difference and call it even.

Bush’s plan for illegal aliens sounds good on paper, but you-know-who is in the details — and this plan is all details.

1) The National Guard will be called out — to watch from a distance and build some fences. The 6,000 total refers to how many individuals will be sent to the border over the course of a year. If they go in the traditional two-week stints, we’re talking an additional 231 Guardsmen at a time. Skipping the fence-building aspect and presuming all they do is watch for illegal aliens, and that they do it 8-hour shifts, that means each Guardsman would be responsible for 25 miles of border. Can I have a “BFD” from the choir?

2) Another 6,000 Border Patrol agents. These will be replacing the Guardsmen, largely, not supplementing them, so their effectiveness will be diminished. They should be more effective than Guardsmen (nothing against them, but the BP folks are better trained and have more authority to directly confront the illegal aliens.

3) An end to the “catch and release” policy that has had many arrested illegal aliens let go on a promise to show up later for court. This policy isn’t just long overdue for removal, it was an obscenity from the first instant it was concieved. It was gross dishonesty on its face, and Bush should only receive minimal credit for finally ending something that he’s tolerated for years. And again, that’s only if it actually does stop.

4) “Temporary guest worker” programs. This has been thoroughly shredded and debunked as utterly unworkable numerous times before, so I’m not going to bother. I’m just going to point to Chris Muir’s current Day By Day as the most insightful observation on the whole mess I’ve ever seen.

5) Tamper-proof IDs for legal aliens in the United States. Again, sounds great, but how it will be implemented will reveal just how well it will work. Market forces will almost inevitably trump a government plan, and there will be a huge incentive to find ways to fake the unfakeable IDs. There are a lot of very intelligent people who would very much like to find a way to make big money, and finding ways around the ID system offers access to a lot of money — all under the table. What one technology can create, another can undo.

6) A graduated forgiveness program, based on how long someone has been in the United States. I predicted it before, and I’ll repeat it again: the primary consequences of this will be twofold: a huge surge in illegal aliens looking to cross the border before it takes effect, and an explosion in forged documents that “prove” how long someone has been in the country. People will start finding ways to fake utility bills, rent receipts, and the like to show that Skippy who just hopped the border last week has been in the United States since the Clinton Administration, just quietly doing those jobs Americans don’t want to do.

Bush needed to throw some red meat to the staunch anti-illegal-immigration elements, but he decided to cheap out. The meat he found was all fat and gristle, so it tastes good and will keep some chewing for a while, but it will ultimately prove frustrating, unsatisfying, and downright unhealthy. His grand initiative is full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

Lorie Byrd is Leaving Polipundit
The President's Immigration Address


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