Is reality about to intrude on America’s political class? For at least the last two decades, that clerisy has assured us that immigration, legal or otherwise, is a virtue. We’ve also been told that our lawless southern border is coming under control.
In his first year in office, President Bill Clinton said, “I believe we should stiffen our efforts to control the southern border.” He added “I think we should have more Border Patrol agents and I think we should do more to restrict illegal immigration.”
In a 2006 address from the Oval Office, President George W. Bush proclaimed that “the United States must secure its borders,” and said that “we are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history.”
President Obama said “When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system, and I began by doing what I could to secure our borders.” The White House boasts that his subsequent efforts “represent the most serious and sustained effort to secure our border in our nation’s history.”
Enter one Francisco Sanchez.
Last week, Sanchez shot 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle for no apparent reason and she walked with her father at a popular tourist site in San Francisco. Steinle cried “help me dad,” as she collapsed. She died on the way to the hospital.
Sanchez is in the United States illegally, has a whopping seven felony convictions, and has been deported back to Mexico five prior times.
The Obama administration is trying to blame San Francisco for not returning Sanchez to the feds for deportation when his last stint in jail was complete. Certainly there is plenty of blame to go around, but how it is possible that someone with multiple felonies and illegal entries to the USA could ever be free to prey on law-abiding citizens?
The incident is not isolated. By many accounts, the vastly increased numbers of illegals crossing our southern border have contributed to a crime wave. In 2013, the Obama administration released 2,200 illegals from detention that it said “did not pose a violent threat to public safety.” An investigation by DHS’s own Inspector General found that about 600 of those released had criminal convictions. Later reporting revealed many of the convictions were seriously and included homicide.
Yet, from our political class, we hear the same promises and failed policy prescriptions.
In May, Hillary Clinton goaded her Republican opponents saying that not one “is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship”—a euphemism for amnesty for illegal aliens. She claimed that comprehensive immigration reform will “will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country.”
Speaking in January in the same city where Kathryn Steinle was later murdered, Jeb Bush said “We need to find a way, a path to legalized status for those that have come here and have languished in the shadows.” Later he observed of illegals that “they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.” He called again for a guest-worker program, a favorite rope-a-dope suggestion of the political class, conveniently ignoring that we have had a guest-worker visa program since the 1940s.
In other words, both sides of our political establishment persist with the same false assumptions, insincere promises, and faulty prescriptions.
There are alternative voices emerging. Donald Trump entered the presidential race with a jarring polemic against Mexican “rapists” and “killers.” While the murder of Kathryn Steinle makes him look prescient, Trump’s imprecision is a serious liability. Just as the true crime of Joe McCarthy was to enable the left to dismiss serious communist hunters, Trump may actually make it harder for mainstream Republicans to deviate from the received wisdom on immigration.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has taken a smarter approach, casting this as a safety and economic issue. In April, he said “If the United States was being attacked in one of our water ports on the East or West Coast, we’d be sending in our military forces, and yet we’re facing some of the same challenges with international criminal organizations, the cartels that are trafficking not only drugs but weapons and humans, and we need to step up and be aggressive.”
Walker also went a step farther, saying that we need “a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages.” The idea of curbing both legal and illegal immigration put poohbahs on both left and right in high dudgeon. But it is a debate America is ready to have, especially given this latest, clear failure of bipartisan immigration policy.
Most Americans instinctively distrust Washington on immigration. Crime previously focused in border areas is spreading. Total employment — especially workforce participation—is still lousy and there is a legitimate question of whether it makes sense to enable companies to hire foreigners when qualified Americans can fill jobs. Nothing can bring back Kathryn Steinle, but she need not have died in vain if we can avoid others having to meet her tragic fate.
Christian Whiton was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration from 2003-2009. He is author of "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War" (Potomac Books, 2013).