LOS ANGELES - In November of last year, I went to watch conservative columnist Michelle Malkin speak at a Los Angeles bookstore about the gaping national security loopholes in immigration policy. Or, as the subtitle of her book Invasion puts it, "how America still welcomes terrorists, criminals and other foreign menaces to our shores."
It's not hard to be horrified by the basic brief against existing border security. More than nine million foreigners live in the United States illegally. Tens of thousands -- including Sept. 11 hijacker Hani Hanjour and 1993 World Trade Center bomber Eyad Ismoil -- came on student visas, then dropped out of school and off the authorities' radar.
A special "Visa Express" system with Saudi Arabia (since disbanded) allowed thousands of young Wahhabists from the cradle of radical Islam to obtain American visas at Saudi travel agencies. Untold numbers of illegals (including arrested Washington D.C. sniper suspect John Lee Malvo), responded to their deportation orders by posting bond money then disappearing into the system.
Malkin, a petite child of Filipino immigrants, made her case quietly for 20 minutes, then opened the floor for questions.
What do we do about the liberal media, the first guy wanted to know. What do you think, came question number two, about private citizens defending our borders from Mexicans down in Arizona?
"I call them patriots," Malkin replied.
Then a naturalized citizen from Quebec stood up and complained that he had gone into a neighbourhood store just that day, and the shopkeepers had the nerve to speak Spanish to each other.
"I learned English, but those people never will!" he thundered. "And you know what? Wait for another year or two or three, and forget about the English here. They will speak only Spanish.... It's already too late!"
This is a microcosm of the Great Immigration Debate 2.0, which has made a stirring if unheralded comeback after six years in the political wilderness. National security concerns, which show no signs of abating since the Sept. 11 massacre, have focused increasing media and government attention on the chaotic borders. The initial efforts are then sustained by the passion of people who are still as pissed off at the Mexicans as they were a decade ago.
In this process, the thick line differentiating Saudi terrorists from Central American farmworkers has become blurred. Victor Davis Hanson, a war historian and one of the stronger voices for assertive American military action to confront terrorism abroad, has just brought out a new book called Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. (The opponents to his policy prescriptions in both cases being the left-leaning "multi-culturalists".)
CNN Moneyline anchor Lou Dobbs, who created a stir last year by insisting on referring to the War on Terrorism as the "War on Islamists," has been running a series all month on "securing our borders," during which at one point he berated Undersecretary for Borders and Transportation Asa Hutchinson:
"I'm sorry, Mr. Secretary, I mean, that's the legal immigration policy, but a border policy that permits 700,000 illegal aliens a year to cross into this country is either no policy at all or it is simply a lack of enforcement of it."
It is here where Dobbs and other border-tightening advocates are slightly out of date -- the Department of Homeland Security has actually started enforcing laws and regulations its precursor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, had long let slide.
For the first time in memory, immigration authorities are raiding groups of day labourers -- typically undocumented Latinos who congregate outside of home improvement stores and truck-rental agencies -- asking for papers and deporting those who don't have them. When 82,000 Arabs voluntarily registered with the DHS at the agency's request, 13,000 were booted out of the country for not having their papers in order. Visiting reporters without previously ignored "journalist visas" are being sent on the next flight out.
Whereas INS officials let the world know their "priority" didn't involve tracking down every minor violator, the DHS is sending the exact opposite message. At a meeting I attended in June, a reporter asked leclick.net/N3081/jump/npo.com/review/story;loc=advertising;sz=120x240;kw=review;stile=11;kw=ccskyscraper;ord=9?">