Renaissance: The Ziglar Resignation and the Chance for Immigration Renewal
We should have seen it coming. How much longer could genial Jim Ziglar survive John Ashcroft, James Sensenbrenner and September 11th ? While the resignation of Mr. Ziglar created splashy headlines around the country, in all likelihood, the White House political pros were not taken by surprise. While Commissioner Ziglar was the "Sergeant At Arms" of the US Senate, this time around the smart money says that President Bush will look for a soldier- a real one- or at least someone with a law enforcement or national security background. The implications for meaningful, even marginal, improvement in the willingness or ability of the INS to deliver quality services on time are not hard to figure out. The contrast with the surging momentum of the days right before September 11th when genuine progress seemed not only possible but inevitable could not be more dramatic or discouraging.
Ziglar is not to blame for an Agency that does not know what America wants it to do. Indeed, the Service is the perfect institutional embodiment of our national schizophrenia on immigration. All of the clashing assumptions, competing programs and contradictory goals under which Ziglar and his predecessors have labored make any effective action by the Service on almost any issue of moment an occasion for great relief and genuine surprise. If it is true that the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it, then the best way to decide what immigration means to the American economy is to arrive at a point when a leaderless INS does not know which way to turn. That is where we are now.
The old answers no longer work, if they ever did. When both the AFL-CIO and the National Association of Manufacturers want employer sanctions to go, it is only the relative non-enforcement of I-9 compliance that has kept the system on life support. Whatever one thinks about IRCA, it seems fairly clear that the protection it has provided for American workers is, to put it charitably, less than overwhelming. The real threat to the legitimate interests of the American workforce comes not from the undocumented but from the chain migration to this country through family ties that is entirely legal but largely unchecked by any effective labor market controls. While most critics of immigration zero in on the H-1B or an allegedly overgenerous employment-based system, the truth is that the number of green cards earned this way is a piker compared to the much larger number of family immigrants who are really coming to work. The only reason that this has not become a real issue until now is the fact that the family visa categories are protected by a widely shared belief in their moral legitimacy that has never been extended to any employment-based options.
The Ziglar abdication presents a chance for genuine immigration renewal, perhaps the last real one before the next September 11th closes the gates for a long time. If America moves forward with strong and active faith to deregulate the immigration system so that smart markets not dumb regulations determine what is important, this time will not be wasted. Mr. Ziglar's falling on his sword will be remembered as the selfless sacrifice of a true patriot. Start from the assumption that immigration policy should not a noble exercise in international social work but a clear-eyed expression of enlightened national self interest and the rest falls easily into line. Here's how it can work:
About The Author
Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP America Inc. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP America Inc. in any way.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.