Department of Very Bad Immigration Ideas: Electrocute Illegal Border Crossers

If you follow politics for any length of time and what those in positions of political leadership sometimes say, you cannot be surprised to come across verbal missteps, rhetorical excesses, logical inconsistencies, or flat-out wrong information.

And then there is the recent immigration policy suggestion by GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.

His solution to the problem of illegal immigrants is, to quote the New York Times, "to build an electrified fence on the border with Mexico that could kill people who try to cross illegally." He is further quoted as threatening to use military "with real guns and real bullets" to stop illegal border crossers.

That's right, he wants to make crossing the border illegally the lethal equivalent of a national Milgram shock experiment, one in which punishment is immediately meted out without benefit of any arrest, charge, or trial.

Whatever virtues Mr. Cain has a business executive, it is clear that he is almost wholly devoid of substantive knowledge or thought about any of the matters he had every right to be expected to be asked about when he put himself forward as a presidential candidate.

This is not the first or even the second area where Mr. Cain has shown himself to be basically ignorant about the substantive underpinnings of his policies. His 9-9-9 plan has come in for scathing economic criticism because, among other large drawbacks, it operates as an effective 27 percent tax on wage income. In foreign policy he has clearly thought little and knows less about the issues on which he expresses himself. Having said that Israelis would be willing to agree on the Arab's "right of return," he was then forced to admit he didn't know what the term meant.

Mr. Cain will never be president, even though he has vaulted to the top of some polls, and for that we may all breathe a sigh of relief.

But in the meantime, his ill-informed and ill-considered comments run the danger of doing major harm to the causes, like stopping illegal immigration, that he apparently supports.

It is so well-known as to hardly merit comment that the GOP must find a way to both support our immigration laws and reach out to those legal immigrants that come here from Spanish-speaking cultures.

The word you hear most often connected to advice about how to do this is to adopt a different "tone". But this often really means never criticizing the incentives that encourage and reward illegal aliens.

For example, Ana Navarro, the national Hispanic chairperson of Jon Huntsman campaign who served the same role on John McCain's 2008 campaign, said of Mitt Romney that he "has definitely adopted [a hostile] tone, and needlessly." Romney's "tone" was apparently bad because he criticized the nearly $100,000 tuition subsidy given to those illegal aliens attending Texas state universities who have graduated from a Texas high school and declared their intention to become citizens in the future.

If there is any kernel of truth in the somewhat banal observation regarding "tone" it is to be found in the observation that the GOP must be clear about its commitment to legal immigration and at the same time equally clear about its insistence that incentives which reward illegal aliens be stopped.

Mr. Cain's thoughtless remarks will doubtless be put forward as an illustration of the "fact" that anti-immigrant feeling permeates the highest levels of the Republican Party – their presidential candidates.

It illustrates no such thing, of course. It is solely the witless remark of a man who has no real substantive or experiential reason to be part of any platform for presidential candidates. But those of us who favor legal immigration and enforcement will pay nonetheless.