Washington Post Writers Group
Chris Christie's plan to track immigrants like FedEx tracks packages comes with its own slogan: When your idea to combat illegal immigration absolutely, positively has to be the most ridiculous of them all.
The 2016 GOP presidential hopeful wants help from the private sector in tracking illegal immigrants who overstay visas. At a recent town hall, Christie claimed that the U.S. government can't track the undocumented and cited a shipping company that does a better job tracking packages.
"I'm going to have Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, come work for the government for three months," the New Jersey governor said. "Just come for three months to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and show these people" how to track the undocumented.
You would think that a former U.S. attorney would know that, when it comes to finding illegal immigrants, ICE is no slouch. This is the same bunch that found and deported more than 2.5 million people in less than seven years.
"You go online and at any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is," Christie continued. "Yet we let people come into this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them. We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in and then when your time is up - however long your visa is - then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, it's time to go.'"
Excuse me, Governor. It's time for your reality check.
So we're expected to believe that the civil servants at ICE — some of whom we learned during the debate over sanctuary cities aren't sufficiently motivated to go a few blocks to take custody of a low-priority illegal immigrant criminal who is about to be released from the county jail — are going to monitor the movements of visa overstayers? "Oh, look who's milking cows at 3 a.m. at a dairy farm in Wisconsin! It's Julio!"
Of course, it's Julio. Who did you think was going to do that dirty job? An American teenager named "Brad"?
Finding visa overstayers isn't the problem. The U.S. government knows their names, their addresses and employers, the universities they attended. The real problem is that it's often more difficult to remove these people because over time they've put down roots, started businesses and learned about their rights — including the right to fight deportation. So immigration agents prefer the low-hanging fruit of border crossers.
Also, given that FedEx tracks packages with scanners and bar codes, where does Christie plan to imbed the bar code on immigrants? On their foreheads? Perhaps it'll be a microchip implanted under their skin like we do with dogs.
In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," moderator Chris Wallace also asked Christie how he was going to track immigrants given that "they don't have a number, you know, a label on their wrist."
"We can do it," Christie responded. "And we should bring in the folks from FedEx to use the technology to be able to do it. There's nothing wrong with that."
Are you serious? Everything is wrong with that. In fact, it didn't take long for some of my Jewish friends to point out that there's actually been a low-tech version of this sort of thing before. Besides, do we really need GPS for immigrants? How hard could it be to find your gardener, housekeeper, nanny?
During the interview, Christie acknowledged that people are not packages.
"My point was, this is once again a situation where the private sector laps us in the government with the use of technology," he said.
And this is the biggest mistake of all, Mr. Wizard. Treating technology as our savior only perpetrates the narrative that, with a white board and some dry erasers, a roomful of smart people could discern what's broken with our immigration system and come up with a way to fix it.
That's not so. This is not an engineering problem; this is a political problem. And until our elected leaders quit playing games, stop demagoguing immigrants, ditch simplistic solutions, stop dealing with immigration as a cultural phenomenon when it is an economic one, level with constituents, and help Americans kick our addiction to immigrant labor, we can implant bar codes in millions of illegal immigrants and nothing will change.
That is, other than our national character and who we are as Americans. That will be mangled beyond recognition.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.