Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

class="bluetext">Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



A few weeks ago, the Oliver Turner Society in Charlottesville met at lunch to discuss the controversial illegal immigration issue. We were less concerned about how the this crisis was created than about what should be done to alleviate it. Here are seven actions the group thought that federal and state governments, and Congress, should take.

  1. Seal the border with Mexico. The Obama administration is sending several thousand additional border patrol, customs, and drug enforcement personnel to the border to limit the flow of people entering our country illegally. Elements of the national guard are now assisting, and these actions are having some success in reducing the flow.
  2. Deport illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. Apprehending and convicting criminals is primarily the responsibility of states, but deporting them is a function of the federal government. Many states complain that the federal agency responsible, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a part of the Homeland Security department (DHS), doesn't take custody of many such criminals, leaving the states to pay the expense of holding them in local jails. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of DHS, says that ICE is increasing the deportation of these criminals.
  3. Prosecute employers who hire undocumented workers. This is a politically sensitive issue, especially among farmers, meatpackers, construction companies, and restaurants, which exercise a strong influence in Congress. The Bush administration made modest efforts to deal with the problem, but protests from employers were given a sympathetic hearing by the White House. ICE also has enforcement responsibility in this area, but it is hampered both by lack of trained personnel and the reluctance of politicians in both parties to apprehend the undocumented workers.
  4. Permit states to enforce laws when the federal government does not. Arizona decided this year that its internal security situation has become so serious that it can't wait for a "do nothing Congress" to enact comprehensive immigration reform. A federal judge ruled that part of the Arizona law is unconstitutional, but the case has been appealed and eventually will reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The real issue is whether states have implicit authority under the police powers of the Constitution's 10th Amendment.
  5. Enact federal legislation creating an early path to citizenship. Persons residing in this country illegally for many years, but have no criminal record, are gainfully employed, have learned English, and pay taxes, should be given a "fast track" to acquiring citizenship. Congress failed to agree on the length of time, and other conditions, these persons must have lived in the United States before they are eligible for citizenship. A compromise on ten years' residence would be a reasonable outcome.
  6. Modify the 14th Amendment on citizenship by birth. Senator Lindsay Graham and other senators have raised the possibility that the Constitution's 14th Amendment should be changed, to bar babies born to illegal immigrants from automatically becoming citizens. The proposal is condemned by much of the media and many constitutional experts, but it generates support in those states where illegal immigration is now a crisis. Most experts think a constitutional amendment has little chance of passing in Congress, but it will continue to generate discussion until it finally enacts immigration reform.
  7. Create a national I.D. card. At present, all but three states require proof of legal residence in order to obtain a driver's license. It is now a de facto I.D. card for security processing at airports and government buildings. But civil liberties groups strongly object to a national I.D. card as an infringement of personal freedom. Those favoring the idea say that if everyone has such a card, it would enhance internal security in the country by making it much easier for state and local police to identify and apprehend potential terrorists and foreign-born criminals who reside here illegally.

In my view, comprehensive immigration reform will not be resolved in Congress so long as party politics exercises control over its members' votes. If the current political impasse in Washington continues, states having major problems coping with criminal elements among illegal immigrants must have legal authority to enact their own laws, so long as these do not result in random questioning by police of a person's citizenship.

If, as opinion polls suggest, Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives in November, an optimist might hope that its leaders will craft a new comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate and President Obama could accept. It must set reasonably tough standards for gaining citizenship, and it must preclude blanketing in everyone who resides here illegally, as many liberal groups demand.

A pessimist might argue that nothing will change until after the 2012 presidential elections, perhaps not even then. In that case, Arizona's authority for protecting its internal security will be decided by the Supreme Court. I'm a bit more optimistic, believing that if House Republicans have the majority in 2011, they will be obliged to show results on this crucial issue before the 2012 elections.

File last modified on Saturday, 06-SEP-2010 5:05 PM EST

Feedback to Author