No Fly—No Work–No Damned Good

The Department of Homeland Security’s No Fly Program worked so well that Senator Ted Kennedy was grounded. No matter that he was standing right there in front of the airline personnel, white mane flowing, recognizably liberal, the computer said he was another Ted Kennedy on a terrorist-suspect list. The good senator has connections, yet it still took him nearly two weeks to get off the damned list.


Now here’s a thought. Maybe al Qaeda should stop calling their members Muhammad this or Saddam that and name their terrorist brothers after prominent Americans. Start with the House and Senate, then Hollywood stars, then run right down through the rock and country-western and hip-hop bunch. Tom Cruise al-Zarqawi or Willie Nelson al Aziz Awda. That ought to screw up the boarding arrangements across various American air carriers.

My point is that the Senate, in its wisdom, is recommending that the DHS ‘Basic Pilot Program’ should be expanded. In effect, Basic Pilot is a ‘No-Work’ instead of a No Fly program. True to bureau-speak, Basic Pilot hasn’t a thing to do with pilots. I don’t know why, you’d have to ask Michael Chertoff about that. Basic Pilot encourages employers to electronically verify the work eligibility of new-hires who are non-citizens directly with the appropriate federal agencies using the Internet.


We all know how well ‘appropriate federal agencies’ work, having watched them stumble over one another trying to find Mike Chertoff’s cell phone number.

And the Internet as a link to these appropriate federal agencies, what a breakthrough vision. The Internet is rife with Russian keyloggers and nearly every month breaks another story about identity theft (the latest just this week at Veterans Affairs), but we’re going to be able to tell an employer in Hardscrabble, Montana that this particular Juan Vargas is not any of thousands of other Juan Vargases. I can hardly wait.

Extending Basic Pilot Program from its current status as a voluntary platform to a requirement prior to employment will (sigh)

  • Burden employers with yet another paper-chase.
  • Threaten companies with huge fines for non-compliance
  • Slide another layer of emotional trauma under immigrants
  • Expose a job and the family security that goes with a job to the whim of software failure, human error and/or the power of yet another bureaucrat to mess with people’s lives

It’ll also cost a billion bucks. But be calmed by the fact that ‘many lawmakers’ think the program is worth the expense. These are the same lawmakers who gave FEMA a blank check to go out and buy a hundred thousand house-trailers that turned out to be absolutely useless.


One of them is Jim Sensenbrenner, a House Republican. The House of Representatives is particularly rabid on the subject of immigration because they’re terrified of what may happen to them individually and collectively in November. What on earth they hope to achieve by pandering to a ‘conservative’ base by selling out 43 million Hispanic-Americans is anyone’s guess. But Congress is a strange disorganization of the self-interested, masquerading as public servants.

Getting back to Sensenbrenner, he’s stated that

“People will keep trying to enter illegally if they believe an employer will hire them. Making the Basic Pilot Program mandatory will shut off this magnet.”

C’mon, Jim, you can’t possibly believe that. You may as well say,

“People will keep trying to sell drugs if they believe a user will buy from them. Making ‘Just Say No’ mandatory will shut off this magnet.”

Illegal immigrants have been working black in the American economy for a hundred years. Zeroing in on Wal-Mart is not going to make the shadow-employment go away, it’s just going to drive it yet further underground, something we’re desperate to keep from happening again and again and again. You can’t cut off jobs when employers want to hire and workers want work to do.

Like drugs, two forces are at work and Basic Pilot Program doesn’t address either of them. 1) There are illegal border crossers who will come no matter the law and no matter the risk, because they need work to feed their families. 2) There are (mostly) unscrupulous ranchers, farmers, Congressman’s wives and lawn-care businesses who need workers at wages unattractive to Americans. Those combined pressures put the lie to Sensenbrenner’s lack of sense.

Mike Chertoff, who’s never run a business with a need for undocumented workers, chirps that enlarging the program

“would give us the ability for the first time to say to employers–all employers, not just a small group–now you have a tool that will allow you to check the status of your employees."

I hate to be the one to break this to you, Mike, but employers don’t want a tool to check the status of anybody, much less their underpaid, mostly undocumented workers. What is it about these dynamics that Congressmen and Cabinet Secretaries don’t understand? Somehow they presume because they sponsor a law, against all reasonable judgement, it will solve a problem.

Giving workers more protections and making the process less burdensome for businesses is not an acceptable goal. That hasn’t worked in the drug intervention game, never worked during prohibition and will not work now.

One thing about computers, when they go down everybody understands that ‘the computer is down, don’t expect anything to happen until it is back up and running.’ Congress, on the other hand, is constantly down or out of town or on the make and seems to feel if they just make a noise, any kind of noise, we won’t notice.

We have noticed. We don’t like it, Messrs. Chertoff and Sensenbrenner, but we have noticed.

For more comments on Washington at work, see my personal web site.

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