Why not a national immigrant card?

Georgie Anne Geyer

July 29, 1993|By Georgie Anne Geyer

ALMOST overnight, those of us who have argued for a decade and a half that we must reasonably and legally control immigration in America and assimilate new immigrants are no longer "racists, bigots and nativists," but rather even a little in fashion.

Stories about the economic costs of illegals are all over the front pages.

On almost every new bill in Congress, someone adds an amendment warning against the cost of illegals. Once again, the man who is far ahead on what must be done is Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who has been one of the leading "racists, bigots and nativists" for many years.

At a breakfast meeting in Sen. Robert Dole's office recently, where the immigration question was explored by specialists on all sides, Senator Simpson posed the next proposition.

"The real question," he told the sober group, "is whether we are going to have to have a universal ID card. We are talking now about 1 million illegal aliens a year, not 10,000.

"We'll have that ancient battle over a national ID card again. But if you're going to have a card for health care, at that point you can get a handle on immigration. As it is now, under employer sanctions for hiring an illegal, the employer can be penalized, but he is not responsible for the efficacy of documents, and we have a cottage industry in false documents all over the Southwest."

The picture others in the Dole group then painted was one of a system out of control, destroying the social equilibrium of cities such as Los Angeles and New York; of a system that, because it does not obey its own laws, makes con-men of the immigrants instead of responsible potential citizens; and of pro-immigration activist groups that are now financing "birthing centers" on the American side of the border with Mexico so the new babies are immediately Americans and can later bring over whole families.

Michael Antonovich of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors portrayed a county that is collapsing under the weight of people who bear no commitment to this country but who are able, through false documents and loose welfare rules, to cash in on welfare, health care and education.

"It is costing Los Angeles County $1.5 billion for illegals annually," Mr. Antonovich told the group. "We have 400,000 illegal alien mothers on Aid to Dependent Children. Two-thirds of all births are to illegals, and you have legal residents and citizens who have to wait in line for health care. In crime, we pay $135 million in the justice system for illegals; 50 percent in the juvenile courts are illegals. In the riots a year ago April, of 3,600 arrested, 25 percent didn't even know who Rodney King was; they were illegals."

The common liberal answer is that the whole saga is simply too enormous, that nothing can be done, and so we should simply bend to the illegals' culture and force of numbers.

This, of course, is no answer at all. As with the war in Bosnia, the only thing lacking is will. (President Clinton is to be congratulated for at least beginning to show concern about immigration.)

The first answer is Al Simpson's. For years the vociferous liberal response to a national ID card has been that this country, despite its history of democracy and basically good sense, would turn overnight into Nazi Germany. We would all be hauled off by the American "ID Gestapo" and hanged at dawn. An American ID card is the train ticket to the gulag, didn't you know?

But suddenly along comes health care for everyone. Just as suddenly, an ID card is OK!

Well, why not a national ID card? We have passports to go overseas; we need credit ratings to have credit cards; we have driver's licenses and tax numbers. Even children today need Social Security numbers.

All these inordinate fears of "fascism right here in America" allow the people who break the law with false documents or no documents at all to have the upper hand. Those of us who obey the law are the ones who have so many plastic cards in our purses and pockets we sound like a human rattle.

The second answer is that we must change our system to assimilate and acculturate the immigrants that America decides it can reasonably absorb, and not the numbers that are decided in Mexico City, Seoul or Beijing.

This means strengthening our entire citizenship process (instead of being embarrassed by the idea of being an American citizen) and insisting that aliens become citizens and take part in the core aspects of American culture or go back to their country of birth.

So, there you have the "racist, bigoted, nativist" agenda, all laid out! It is simply what any responsible country in the world does -- or is supposed to do -- for its citizens, nothing more.

It does not halt and indeed welcomes legal immigration, but it does transfer the focus of the decision-making process back to the United States.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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