New York Times
August 25, 2008
That’s 8 Out of 457,000
This month, the Bush administration rolled out a new strategy to solve illegal immigration and just as quickly rolled it back in. It was called Operation Scheduled Departure, and it was simply this: It asked people to turn themselves in.
Those who showed up would have 90 days to get their affairs in order — to find foster parents for their citizen children; to settle mortgages and car loans; to prepare themselves for new lives in the old country. Of the 457,000 people facing deportation orders, eight took the bait. The program was scrapped after three weeks.
It is tempting to mock the administration for naïve conception and even worse execution, but that would give it too much credit for sincerity. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could never have expected to reap a big crop of undocumented people this way.
We suspect what it really wanted was to lend cover to its continuing campaign of raids and arrests. That is the real strategy. It is brutal, simplistic and also ineffective, but it is the one the country is sticking with.
By capturing almost nobody, the report-to-deport program has bolstered the talking points pushed by the immigration agency and the restrictionist hard-core: illegal immigrants are a vast class of criminal fugitives, and only more enforcement can solve this problem.
One in 20 workers is undocumented. Federal raids are seizing undocumented workers only a dozen or a hundred at a time, a rate that will leave millions in the shadows for decades to come. The raids are also sweeping up and terrorizing citizens. Mass deportation is an impossible mission, and a recipe for family and economic upheaval on a colossal scale: more than three million young Americans, native-born children, live in households where one or both parents are undocumented.
There is a better way. It is to build a system for immigrant workers and family members that more closely matches demand and supply — a system that people will go through, not around. It is to deal sanely with the hidden, hard-working undocumented by requiring them to legalize and assimilate, and using enforcement power to catch and deport the criminals.
That is the path toward a controlled border and a less vulnerable America — not quick fixes that sound good and solve nothing.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company