Tom Tancredo's advice to President Obama about how to solve illegal immigration

Strange but true: Former congressman Tom Tancredo agrees with something in President Barack Obama said in his immigration-reform speech at American University yesterday -- specifically, his assertion that "our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols."

But the agreement pretty much ends there.

"He said nothing new, and I don't believe anything new will occur as a result of it," Tancredo allows. "I don't think it's going to change anything in terms of the debate in the country or the outcome in the Congress, at least for this year."

Indeed, Tancredo views Obama's statement that Democrats will need some Republican support to push through immigration reform as a virtual acknowledgment of defeat. The current proposal, which combines calls for increased border security with a "pathway to legal status" for paperwork-free immigrants now living in the U.S., is not unlike one offered up by President George W. Bush several years ago. At that time, a number of Republicans backed Bush, but given the influence of Tea Party activists and the like during the latest election cycle, Tancredo doesn't see a single GOP vote for such a strategy -- "certainly not John McCain!," he adds, with a prolonged cackle.

"The problem requires two actions," Tancredo believes. "One, stem the flow -- and that's the fence. Two, eliminate the attraction -- and those are the jobs. So if he were to have said yesterday, for instance, 'I am going to propose that we mandate e-verification of citizenship status through every employer in the United States of America,' he would have been saying something of value. But he didn't do that, and he's not going to.

"Honest to God, the best way of dealing with this would be to stand up in front of the Congress and say, 'We're going to secure the border and e-verify every job in America, and that's it. That's my plan.' And there's nothing else you'd need to do. You don't need to arrange transportation on box cars or buses for millions of people. You just have to stop giving them jobs, and they'll return to their country of origin if they can't work.

"There are other problems with anchor babies and things like that, but the important thing to do now is to stop the bleeding, and it can be done. It's a simple process -- but it would go against the desires of both political parties, because the Republicans want the labor and the Democrats want the votes. That's what it really boils down to."

In the meantime, Tancredo continues to back measures like Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070 -- the one that prompted the ACLU to issue a travel alert for the upcoming holiday weekend. He admits the bill, which Obama called "ill-conceived" in his American University address, won't eliminate illegal immigration, but he feels it's a step in the right direction.

"You can tell the validity of any proposal to deal with illegal immigration by the way the other side reacts," he says. "The more hysterical they get, the more apt the proposal is to work."

For Tancredo, this reaction is typical of the immigration debate, which he calls "a huge kabuki dance."

And it won't be over for a good, long time.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts