The path to citizenship laid out by the Specter bill wouldn't be easy. It would take 11 years, a clean record, a steady job, payment of a $2,000 fine and back taxes, and knowledge of English and civics. That's not "amnesty," with its suggestion of getting something for nothing. But the false label has muddied the issue, playing to people's fear and indignation, and stoking the opportunism of Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader. Mr. Frist has his enforcement-heavy bill in the wings, threatening to make a disgraceful end run around the committee's work.
The alternatives to the Specter bill are senseless. The enforcement-only approach — building a 700-mile wall and engaging in a campaign of mass deportation and harassment to rip 12 million people from the national fabric — would be an impossible waste of time and resources. It would destroy families and weaken the economy. An alternative favored by many businesses — creating a temporary-worker underclass that would do our dirtiest jobs and then have to go home, with no new path to citizenship — is a recipe for indentured servitude.
It is a weak country that feels it cannot secure its borders and impose law and order on an unauthorized population at the same time. And it is a foolish, insecure country that does not seek to channel the energy of an industrious, self-motivated population to its own ends, but tries instead to wall out "those people."
It's a rare moment when I agree with both Senator Arlen Specter and President Bush on something, but I have to say I support their approach to immigration. We'll have to wait and see if sanity prevails. Given that it's an election year, I'm not at all confident that it will.