SAN DIEGO – Immigration is a major league policy challenge. But Congress, having recently passed a pair of bills that will accomplish nothing, is stuck playing in the minors.
There are many risk-averse members of the legislative branch who prefer simple ideas over doing the hard things that might put them at odds with donors or anger constituents. The result: scores of lawmakers – most often Republicans, but also some Democrats – who haven’t let the fact that they don’t know the first thing about immigration stop them from feeling passionately about the topic.
Of course, they’re not the only folks in Washington who are ignorant when it comes to this fiery and divisive issue.
Just look at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. As he discussed plans for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border with reporters aboard Air Force One, President Donald Trump suggested that “there is a very good chance we could do a solar wall” that would double as a massive energy saver.
And people said we couldn’t save the planet while making America white again.
Trump also said that drug smugglers may have devised a new if primitive weapon to use against border patrol agents.
“As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them – they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over.”
So, in order to spare border patrol agents from being walloped in the head, Trump wants a wall that agents can see through – even if that means we wind up with little more than “a steel wall with openings.”
Got it. Just because we don’t have transparency in the Russia investigation doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it on the border.
Finally, Trump admitted that the length of the proposed structure was likely to be a lot shorter than advertised.
“You don’t need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers,” he said. “You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So you don’t need that. You’ll need anywhere from 700 to 900 miles.”
This sounds like we’re finally getting some honesty and common sense. And so, I have to ask: Who are you? And what have you done with our president?
You won’t find either honesty or common sense in the two immigration bills recently passed by the House of Representatives. Both measures are punitive, and poorly thought out. Both can be described as legislative pandering – bad policy offered up to help Trump keep unrealistic campaign promises. And neither bill is likely to do much to solve the problem at hand. All they do is illustrate that most lawmakers in Washington don’t have the foggiest idea of how to deal with the issue.
The first bill – dubbed Kate’s Law, after 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco in July 2015 – establishes stiffer penalties for illegal immigrants who re-enter the United States after being deported. Steinle’s accused assailant, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been deported to Mexico five times but always returned.
The second bill bars cities, counties, and states that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities from receiving grants from the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security. Some of those grants have nothing to do with immigration, and instead touch on more serious law enforcement and security matters such as terrorism.
Both pieces of legislation are headed to the Senate.
The problem with the first bill is that it lacks an understanding of human nature. Stiffer sentences and more jail time won’t deter someone who is hungry, desperate to provide for his family, or intent on reuniting with her children on the other side of the border. Folks with no options will cross what they see as an imaginary line in the dirt.
The flaw with the second bill is that it lacks a grip on reality. As I have said many times before, there is no such thing as a sanctuary city – a mythical fantasyland where illegal immigrants can live out their days without fear of being detected and deported. That’s a political fabrication by Democrats that Republicans were dumb enough to swallow whole.
What a waste of time and energy. The immigration debate is serious business. It’s time we started electing leaders who approach it in a serious way.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.