True confession: I've never followed local politics closely enough. I've always been drawn more to the interplay of nations than of neighbors. But now, with illegal immigration out of control and our border a shambles — the very baseline of the interplay of nations — it is our neighbors, our local representatives, who are increasingly taking charge of this crucial chunk of national policy. City Hall, the local planning commission and the county clerk's office are where the action is.
And, not coincidentally, where the grown-ups are.
Take Frank Merola, county clerk of Rensselaer County in New York. When New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer recently ordered up driver's licenses for illegal aliens, County Clerk Merola said no. Merola refused to issue licenses to illegal aliens. He has since been joined by 12 other New York county clerks. They've all refused to issue such licenses because doing so compromises the security of the document — and, therefore, the security of the country. (You'd think a governor could figure this out.) Their other reason is that issuing such licenses breaks several New York state and federal laws. (Again, not rocket science.) These laws include The Real I.D. Act of 2005, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, which requires anyone seeking a driver's license to have a valid (i.e., not phony) Social Security number.
Are these good citizens contemplating acts of civil disobedience? Quite the contrary. By refusing to license illegal aliens, they are in fact upholding the laws of the land — laws the governor himself is prepared to flout. Far from subverting the state's integrity, the county clerks are actually trying to protect it against the governor's irresponsible efforts to throw it away. In a post-grown-up world, they are trying to restore what you might call an adult sense of order.
Meanwhile, Spitzer — a governor, who, in the words of CNN's Lou Dobbs, "requires training wheels" — hasn't a clue. "We are not talking about letting more people into this country," Spitzer told The New York Times. "We are talking about being practical about those who are already here." When "practical" is a euphemism for "lawless," chaos is sure to follow.
But not if these clerks can help it. And not if their fellow grown-ups across the country can help it — the town officials, county supervisors, city mayors and the like, who, in the absence of federal border protection and illegal immigration control, are passing ordinances and resolutions to safeguard their towns and localities against the strains and costs and crowding and dislocations of rampant illegal immigration, childishly tolerated or nefariously abetted by the powers that still be.
How do they protect their turf? Some of these local measures cut off public funds and services to people whom the Bush administration — even after 9/11 — has allowed to enter or remain in this country illegally. Others require businesses and landlords to determine the immigration status of employees and tenants. From the Board of Supervisors in Loudon County, Va., to the state legislature in Oklahoma, to city hall in Hazleton, Pa., such immigration measures are certainly not the traditional bailiwick of local and state governments. But, as Lou Barletta, the Hazleton mayor who sparked this grassroots revolt against national lawlessness, put it, "I can't sit back any longer and watch my town being destroyed."
There have been setbacks. Hazleton's ordinances were struck down by a federal judge over the summer; Barletta vows to appeal. The municipality of Riverside, N.J., population 8,000, which last year enacted legislation prohibiting anyone from employing or renting to illegal aliens, recently rescinded the law after being slapped with two costly lawsuits, forcing the town to put off paving roads, buying dump trucks and repairing town hall. In protracted court battles, the town could crumble.
Across the board, however, these measures have worked. Illegal aliens are leaving these localities in droves — "hundreds, if not thousands" leaving Riverside alone, according to The New York Times. USA Today reported last month that "Illegal immigrants living in states and cities that have adopted strict immigration policies are packing up and moving back to their home countries or to neighboring states."
"Neighboring states" without similar legislation, that is — a split that could ultimately divide us as a nation between Border States and Open Border States. But maybe the grown-ups will rise up and restore the nation's sovereignty before that happens. What we need is a lot more New York county clerks.
Diana West is a columnist for The Washington Times. She is the author of "The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization." She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.