OPINION: Mis-Immigration

Fmr. House speaker rallies against immigration reform bill in Congress.

June 22, 2007 — -- Putting out your story in Washington is nothing new. Putting out your "facts" is nothing new either and the immigration debate has put up with plenty of both.

The White House story is not selling and apparently the goodies they are offering to U.S. senators aren't migrating any more votes to the yea column.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has put off a vote on immigration reform until early next week, citing confusion within his own party on concluding work on the energy bill. That may be true, but what may also be true is that he likely does not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster by the bill's steadfast opponents. But waiting may not be in his interest as time is on the opposition's side.

Known in the Senate as McCain-Kennedy, the immigration bill which is being strongly supported by the White House is most strongly opposed by the conservative base of the Republican party, and up until now, President Bush's strongest supporters.

Conservative talk radio, which for the better part of six years defended the White House on nearly every position, is in outright revolt.

Their opposition is not so much disrespectful to the Republicans or the president as it is the kind of support a friend would give to another who is about to jump off a cliff.

Wanting to be first off that cliff was Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who told The New York Times that "talk radio is running America" and "we have to deal with that problem."

Blaming talk radio is like blaming the fact that you're broke on your banker who loaned you the money that you spent.

Further depleting the account earlier this week was White House press secretary Tony Snow who appeared on the Sean Hannity's radio show to try to explain the inexplicable.

Snow, having for several years hosted a national talk radio and TV show himself, is about as good a communicator as you could hope for, certainly the best in this administration by a long shot. But not long into the interview, he sunk into a conspicuously condescending tone as Hannity, who on most days would be on the front lines fighting for the administration, tried to explain to his friend why this bill was simply not doable.

Snow then sunk deeper with accusations that Hannity was putting out misinformation. But when asked to "name one thing" that he had said that was untrue, Snow came up empty -- empty as the administration's political capital account.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (my boss), running out ahead in order to save his friends as they marched steadily toward the cliff, launched an Internet ad this week sponsored by Citizens United.

The ad is designed do one thing: defeat McCain-Kennedy.

The message in the ad is clear. Since Sept. 11, before which 5 of the 19 terrorist hijackers were at some point in the United States illegally, our borders remain open not just to people who cross illegally to find work and a better way of life, but to drug dealers, gangs and terrorists.

Newt also wrote a lengthy solutions-approach to immigration in his weekly Winning the Future Newsletter .

As Newt often points out, more time has passed since the Sept. 11 attack than all the time it took the United States to defeat the Nazis, the fascists and the imperialists during World War II, yet today we are no closer to protecting our borders.

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America does need a rational immigration policy, but one that will first protect our borders, our people, our economy and our culture. McCain-Kennedy simply fails this standard.

McCain-Kennedy has highlighted the mistrust the American people have with their government. The bureaucratic institutions which marginally worked in the industrial age are completely dysfunctional in the information age.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff captured this when he said the immigrations bill "bows to reality."

Well, real change is hard, but defending a catastrophe is harder still.

The administration has decided that it is easier to defend failure than to replace the government structures that don't work. The list of implementation failures because of this mindset over the last few years alone bears this out. Iraq, Katrina, out of control spending, Walter Reed, a man with TB allowed to enter the country unfettered, and 12-18 million people (more or less) inside the country illegally.

Before conservative talk radio in 1986, Americans were promised border control. To get it, they accepted amnesty for people here illegally. What they got was even more people here illegally and more on the way hoping for more amnesty which they got. What we did not get was a protected border. That is why we are where we are today, not because of talk radio.

Now most Americans can see the game the establishment has been playing -- promise everything to you, deliver everything to themselves. Success, you see, all depends upon whether you are part of Washington's permanent governing establishment or not.

The skepticism justifiably runs deep and the answer from the establishment so far is "trust us." But as Reagan said, although he was speaking of another establishment, the former Soviet Union: "Trust but verify."

The American people would like to trust their government to do what it promises, but there is no evidence that it could, even if it were desirable, which it is not, to implement a Z Visa program to more than 12 million people.

Moreover, getting what you got is what happens when you do what you did. This bill is 1986 redux -- all of the talk and none of the action. McCain-Kennedy is a handwritten invitation to millions more people to come to America illegally.

Washington promised (really and truly) that this time only, people here before Jan. 1, 2007 are the only people who will get amnesty. Cross our hearts. But how will they know who was here before Jan. 1 and who wasn't? There is no way to tell.

McCain-Kennedy does not even contemplate a forge resistant smart card with biometric identification which would assure employers instantly who has legal status and who does not.

It does not provide for electronic deposit of guest worker's paychecks so that when the worker falls out of legal status their account is frozen. It does not escrow a small percentage of a worker's pay which they could collect with interest when they go home. It does not make the guest worker sign a contract promising to obey the law. It does not require people to go home and re-enter legally. It does not exclude gang members, drug dealer or potential terrorists from gaining the same legal status offered everyone else now here illegally. It does not even allow for the deportation of convicted felons.

Is there a hint here about why this bill is so unpopular with the American people?

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So how do we solve immigration? Just how we got here, one bite at a time.

The first bite starts with controlling of and protecting our borders. The government's first responsibility is to protect its people.

We have the capability to protect the border, what we are lacking is the political will to do so. As a matter of national survival it must be done. We already know that if millions of people are crossing the border illegally that among them are gang members, violent criminals and drug dealers, but you can be certain that there are also, as ABC News reported earlier this week, those who intend to inflict massive destruction upon the American people.

So what we should do with the millions who are here now? Deport them? The answer is to do nothing. Let me explain.

Protecting the border has a very desirable secondary effect in addition to the national security aspect. It sends a clear message to the immigrant population who lack legal status that the American immigration system may no longer be a joke. That something has changed and the government is demonstrating that it may be serious about law and order and protecting the border.

Amnesty, on the other hand, sends a clear message that we think our own law is merely a set of suggestions that need not be followed. Demonstrating seriousness turns the conversations in the immigrant communities toward the necessity to gain legal status. A protected border for them means that if they leave they will not be able to come back nor will anyone be able to illegally come in.

Another reason to stop illegal border crossings that is seldom discussed is that hundreds lose their lives trying to cross the border, mostly in the desert. Some drown, others, led by unscrupulous "coyotes," have suffocated to death in overcrowded, poorly ventilated truck trailers and those are the ones who made it inside the U.S. border. Many more have died who did not. Part of protecting the border would put a stop to human trafficking, save lives and end needless suffering. We could start by giving those caught trafficking human beings the death penalty.

After the border is protected -- and that may take some time -- the next step is to implement a verification system equivalent in accuracy, speed and security as a credit or debit card. This system would use biometrics to ensure the person being hired is who they say they are and the employer can know with confidence that all of their employees have verifiable legal status.

I should note that it is not possible for the government to implement such a sophisticated system and the reason the private sector could and does is because their competitors can and do.

The government has no competitors, and therefore has no incentive to get it done, which is the major problem underlying the current failing bureaucratic model. But with this system in place, there would be no excuse to hire someone without verifying legal status; therefore, punitive economic penalties should be imposed and enforced on employers who do so.

Moreover, a mandatory direct payroll deposit system could be set up for guest workers so that if they lose their legal status they cannot access their account or get paid. A mandatory escrow account could also be used where a small percentage of money is withheld from each week's direct payroll deposit in an interest bearing account that can only be withdrawn upon leaving the country. The money in escrow saved over time would not be an insignificant amount in Central or South America and could be used to start a small business thus creating needed and desired jobs in Latin America.

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In exchange for legal status, temporary guest workers should sign a contract agreeing to obey the law, pay taxes, purchase required insurances, and if required, get a driver's license. Failing to uphold their agreement would result in being removed from the United States within two weeks without lengthy appeals.

The simple truth is no one would come to America if he or she couldn't get paid. Today, people can, so they do.

Change that dynamic and the behavior will change with it. McCain-Kennedy not only does not change it, it will make it rational for more people to come, not less, making the border less protected, not more.

These policies will take time to set up and implement but would eventually lead to a protected border and a system where there is no way to get paid (or at least very few and all of them illegal) without legal status. When people see this future slowly becoming a reality, they will begin to rapidly migrate to the new system because it would be impossible not to.

There is a but, and it is a big one. People here illegally now who want to work must return home to apply for legal status. But it could be done during the time the new systems are being set up which would likely be years.

We should not force anyone here illegally to pay more money in fines than would be required to fly home and re-enter legally. An employer could even sponsor their trip making it much less of a hardship, certainly easier than getting here in the first place and definitely less expensive than the fine imposed by McCain-Kennedy.

Why is this so important to us? It is because the survival of our great nation of immigrants depends upon respect for the rule of law. Most immigrants do understand this because most come from countries where the rule of law is arbitrary and is not meted out justly. Americans instinctively know this and that is what the fight on talk radio has been all about.

We must protect America from would-be terrorists and criminals by first protecting our borders. Then we must make sure employers know who is eligible to hire and who is not. We can create a real solution to immigration if we demonstrate seriousness. And we can earn back the trust of the American people if we take it one bite at a time and measure and verify results along the way.

Rick Tyler is the press secretary for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. His talk radio show "Leading the Majority" can be heard each Friday at 2:00 p.m. ET on RighTalk.com

ABCNews.com reviews and considers opinion columns for publication on a case by case basis. Opinions represented in this column are those of the guest commentary writer and not ABCNews.