I forget where I was when I first heard the phrase "undocumented worker." Possibly it was after swimming the Rio Grande and emerging dripping on the northern shore to be handed a fake Social Security number and a driver's license. But I assumed, reasonably enough, that this linguistic sleight of hand was simply too ridiculous to fly even with the American media. I underestimated my colleagues, alas.
The "undocumented" are, as it happens, brimming with sufficient documents to open bank accounts or, on the other hand, rent a Ryder truck, as Mohammad Salameh did in 1993 when he and his pals bombed the World Trade Center first time round. Being "undocumented" means being documented up to the hilt as far as everyone else is concerned but "undocumented" only to the US government. Which, when you think about it, is a very advantageous status to have.
Anyway, about five years or so back, I started making references in columns to "fine upstanding members of the Undocumented-American community." But from the lame Steyn joke of yesteryear to the reality of tomorrow is a mere hop and a skip. A few days ago, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, declared:
"This week we will vote on cloture and final passage of a comprehensive bill that will strengthen border security, bring the 12 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows, and keep our economy strong."
Talk about "a fast track to citizenship"! Never mind probationary visas, Z-visas and Green Cards, in the eyes of the Democrat steering "comprehensive immigration reform" through Congress these guys are already "undocumented Americans". Was it simply a slip of the tongue? (Speaking of which, I thought thanks to George W Bush we had "the worst economy since Herbert Hoover". When did it get "strong"?) Or did Senator Reid mean it?
If he did, the very concept of citizenship is dead, and the Senate might as well opt for "really comprehensive immigration reform" and declare everyone on the planet a US citizen with backdated Social Security entitlements. As Le Monde's famous headline of September 12th 2001 put it, "Nous sommes tous Americains." Literally.
I don't know whether this sham of a bill is dead or just resting "in the shadows" like a fine upstanding member of the Vampiric-American community. But, if it rises on the third night to stalk the land once more, I would advise its supporters to go about their work more honestly. First of all, the only guys "living in the shadows" are the aides of American Senators beavering away out of the public eye to cook up this legislation and then present it as a fait accomplis to the citizenry (if you'll forgive the expression). That is an affront to small-r republican government, and, if intemperate hectoring mediocrities like Trent Lott and Lindsay Graham don't understand that, then their electors should give them a well-deserved lesson.
Second, the bill's supporters should stop assuming the bad faith of their opponents. On Fox News the other night, I was told by NPR's Juan Williams, "You're anti-immigrant!" Er, actually, I am an immigrant – one of the members of the very very teensy-weensy barely statistically detectable category of "legal immigrant". But perhaps that doesn't count any more. Perhaps, like Colin Powell's blackness, it's insufficiently "authentic". By filing the relevant paperwork with the United States government, I'm not "keepin' it real".
I wouldn't presume to speak for the millions of Americans who oppose this bill, but it's because I'm an immigrant myself that I object to the most patent absurdity peddled by the pro-amnesty crowd. The bill is fundamentally a fraud. Its "comprehensive solution" to illegal immigration is simply to flip all the illegals overnight into the legal category. Voila! Problem solved! There can be no more illegal immigrants because the Senate has simply abolished the category. Ingenious! For their next bipartisan trick, Congress will reduce the murder rate by recategorizing murderers as jaywalkers.
Back in the real world far from those Senators living in the non-shadows of their boundless self-admiration, the truth is that America's immigration bureaucracy cannot cope with its existing case load, and thus will certainly be unable to cope with millions of additional teeming hordes tossed into its waiting room. Currently, the time in which an immigration adjudicator is expected to approve or reject an application is six minutes. That's not enough time to read the basic form, never mind any supporting documentation. It's certainly not enough time for any meaningful background check. Under political pressure to "bring the 12 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows", the immigration bureaucracy will rubberstamp gazillions of applications for open-ended probationary legal status within 24 hours and with no more supporting documentation than a utility bill or an affidavit from a friend. There's never been a better time for Mullah Omar to apply for US residency.
America has an illegal immigration problem in part because it has a legal immigration problem. Anyone who enters the system exposes himself to an arbitrary, capricious, whimsical bureaucracy: For example, one of the little-known features of this bill is that in order to "bring the 12 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows", millions of legal applicants are being hurled back into outer darkness. Law-abiding foreign nationals who filed their paperwork in the last two years would be required to go back to their home countries and start all over again. Not only does this bill reward law-breaking, it punishes law-abiding.
The people who are truly "anti-immigrant" are the folks who want to send that immigrant from Slovenia or Fiji who applied in May 2005 back to the end of the line. But then "comprehensive immigration reform" is about everything but immigration, including subverting sovereignty and national security. Remember the 1986 amnesty? Mahmoud abu Halima applied for it and went on to bomb the World Trade Center seven years later. His colleague, the aforementioned Mohammad Salameh, was rejected but carried on living here anyway. John Lee Malvo was detained and released by US immigration in breach of its own procedures and reemerged as the Washington sniper. The young Muslim men who availed themselves of the US government's "visa express" system for Saudi Arabia filled in joke applications – "Address in the United States: HOTEL, AMERICA" – that octogenarian snowbirds from Toronto who've been wintering at their Florida condos since 1953 wouldn't try to get away with. The late Mohammed Atta received his flight-school student visa on March 11th 2002, six months to the day after famously flying his first and last commercial airliner.
All the above passed through the US legal immigration system. And, whether they were detained, rejected, approved or posthumously approved, in the end it made no difference. Because US immigration had no real idea who these men were.
But, don't worry, they'll be able to handle another "12 million undocumented Americans" tossed in for express processing.
The real "immigration fraud" is not Mahmoud abu Halima's or John Lee Malvo's or Mohammed Atta's, but that of the politicians who attempted to foist this sham bill on the nation.
© 2007 Mark Steyn