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Immigration reform left an orphan

If the Obama administration proceeds to electoral doom, blame rests on its surrender to its financiers and campaign organizers: Wall Street and public employee and construction unions. A Democratic administration in control of Congress which for two years left hedge fund managers' "carried interest" untouched while not providing a Civilian Conservation Corps or payroll tax moratorium for young workers to relieve youth unemployment has something wrong with it. Meanwhile, the bizarre Republican schemes for tax relief have in common a determination not to burden "the donor community." The state of the two parties is a reflection of the nationalization of campaign finance by the 1973 "reform" legislation suppressing individual local contributions in favor of "bundling" by national interest groups.

Real problems go undebated because those who pay the piper have no interest in them, fostering national deadlock while precluding local action. There is what the late Paul Freund called "apoplexy at the center and anemia at the extremities." Despite postwar European tax reforms, no candidate proposes any sharing of revenue sources with states.

Most Republican candidates embrace nativism and deny the states any role in relaxing immigration restrictions and revising the "drug war," as do the Obama administration and its union backers with their hostility to any guest worker program. The Republicans have lashed themselves to the law enforcement establishment in insisting on criminalization rather than testing as a drug-control strategy, lately joined by the Obama administration, oblivious to the fact that drugs and related criminal records have negated, for much of the black population, gains that would otherwise have resulted from the civil rights movement.

Yet "some play must be left for the joints in the machine." State experimentation with decriminalization of marijuana and drug testing would relieve burdens on prisons and carnage in our cities and on the Mexican border, and it might be more effective than the criminal law.

State guest worker initiatives like the Utah law fostered by a Republican administration and the Mormon and Catholic churches (and instantly denounced by nativists, liberal advocacy groups and the Obama administration) have much to be said for them. Those quick to assert a federal monopoly over immigration forget that until the 1920s, more than 20 states allowed resident aliens to vote, and at least a half-dozen states in the Upper Midwest had commissioners of immigration recruiting immigrants. Congressional power over naturalization was then exercised to permit state judges to conduct naturalization ceremonies and to determine compliance with the five-year residency requirement. Assimilation was fostered by state English literacy requirements and related educational programs. The extent of federal preemption depends on the precise terms of federal statutes, as the Supreme Court recently reminded us in upholding Arizona's requirement that employers resort to a federal computer system to check immigration status.

It is rank hypocrisy to wink at the presence of some 10 million guest workers. Subject at any time to summary deportation, they find it difficult to buy houses, obtain mortgages, start businesses, open bank accounts or work outside an ever-growing underground economy and the drug trade. How a nation that affects to value private property and free enterprise benefits from this state of affairs is hard to understand. No good explanation has been furnished either by Republican nativists or the Obama administration and its union allies for hostility toward guest worker programs, which recognize that historically many (and in some ethnic groups, most) migrants desire eventually to return to their native countries. The Republicans believe, not without reason, that the administration's quest for total amnesty is driven not by humanitarian concern but by a desire to swell the electoral rolls.

Foreign nations have also fostered local "old age clubs" to discharge functions assumed here by state bureaucracies, have encouraged accessory apartments to allow families to assume greater responsibility for elder care, have "chartered" all state schools to foster common sense and local and parental control, and have developed systems of private land assembly of value to our inner cities. But major campaign contributors do not care, and their beneficiaries and the national media wear earplugs.

George W. Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer and volunteer executive director of the Calvert Institute, is the author of the books "Neighborhood Futures" and "The Last American Diplomat: John D. Negroponte and the Changing Face of U.S. Diplomacy." His email is

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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