IMMIGRATION UPDATE….Via Mickey Kaus, John O’Sullivan writes about the immigration debate in the New York Post today and has some kind words for Bill Clinton:

I recently suggested ? wrongly ? that there had been little or no enforcement of employer sanctions since the passage of the 1986 amnesty law….That was not quite accurate. The Clinton administration in fact managed some (albeit patchy) “internal” enforcement of employer sanctions. For instance, the period 1995-1997 saw 10,000 to 18,000 worksite arrests of illegals a year. Some 1,000 employers were served notices of fines for employing them.

Under the Bush administration, however, worksite arrests fell to 159 in 2004 ? with the princely total of three notices of intent to fine served on employers. Thus, worksite arrests under President Bush have fallen from Clintonian levels by something like 97 per cent ? even though 9/11 occurred in the meantime.

Unlike O’Sullivan, I don’t especially want to deport the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. However, he’s right that tighter border security is unlikely to make a dent in illegal immigration as long as there are jobs waiting on this side of the border. All it really does is motivate illegals to stay here permanently once they’ve made it across, since they know what a pain it will be to get back in if they ever leave.

But ? there’s an alternative. Don’t worry so much about the workers themselves, and instead crack down on employers. If the total cost of employing illegals ? i.e., actual cash wages plus fines and possible criminal charges ? goes up, employers will simply decide it’s cheaper and more convenient to increase the cash part of that wage equation and hire American citizens instead. And if jobs for illegal immigrants dry up, illegal immigration will dry up too.

And the best part is that it’s free! Make the fines big enough and the enforcement consistent enough, and the fines pay most of the cost of the enforcement. Couple it with more generous quotas for legal immigration, and the whole “illegal” part of the immigration problem could dry up almost entirely within a few years. It’s as close to a free lunch as you can get.

Of course, there’s that whole “cracking down on corporations” thing, which isn’t exactly a strong point for today’s Republican Party. After all, you don’t want to piss off K Street! On the other hand, Michelle Malkin promises on behalf of her merry band of xenophobes that if George Bush supports anything resembling common sense on immigration, “This is not going to be forgotten.”

Rock, meet hard place. I know you’re going to get along famously.