As the President Signs the Fence Bill, We Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or to Cry…
October 26, 2006
Washington, DC – The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.
We don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
On the one hand, signing this bill is a sorry ending to two years of often serious deliberations. For a time this past spring it seemed as if the President, the Senate, and the American people were moving inexorably towards overhauling our dysfunctional immigration system in an intelligent and comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, it turned out that the cheap symbolism of election year politics overwhelmed the serious policy debate.
We did not legalize immigration flows in a way that brings the process out of the shadows and under the rule of law. Instead, Congress legalized a fence that will continue to force immigration flows into the shadows and further undermine the rule of law. We did not see legislators legislate and reconcile House and Senate bills. We saw House Republican leaders agitate and hold hearings to attack the Senate bill. After all is said and done, what Congress approved is a sad symbol of our government’s inability to solve complex problems through comprehensive solutions requiring bipartisan cooperation.
On the other hand, there is something laughable about watching politicians try to say with a straight face that the fence is meaningful step towards fixing our broken immigration system. A fence is just about as silly a solution as anyone could have thought up. Border communities, their elected officials, border enforcement officers, homeland security experts, environmental analysts, religious leaders – just about any sentient being who knows the border and has thought about the fence – argues that at best it is an expensive symbol and at worst it is an expensive barrier to real reform.
With voters as desperate as they are for leadership and solutions, you would think they might fall for this cynical gesture. But the voters are not as stupid as some politicians seem to think. According to yesterday’s CNN poll, the American people are seeing right through the fence, with a majority opposing it. With elections around the corner, we might be proven wrong. Maybe the fence will turn out to be a brilliant “base turnout” strategy. But it is our hunch that more voters will wonder why Congress debated immigration reform for two years and ended up approving 700 miles of fence that will never be built.
This year’s endgame notwithstanding, we still believe that when it comes to immigration, good policy is good politics. We look forward to the day when our leaders will stop playing politics and start governing again. We are confident our leaders will do what the American people want: enact and implement a balanced bill that secures our borders and polices our workplaces on the one hand, while admitting families and workers under realistic limits and resolving the status of undocumented workers and families already here on the other. We can’t wait to put this year’s fad of immigrant-bashing back on the political shelf where it belongs.