The subject of immigration (and evidently, illegal immigration) has proven to be a divisive issue for conservatives. There are divergent opinions as to which policies should be pursued vis-à-vis the 12 million illegal immigrants who reside in the country. However, as conservatives, there are certain fundamental goals and red lines that we should all unite behind as we commence debate on this issue. Any so-called comprehensive immigration reform proposal that is worth more than a bucket of spit must ensure the following:
- we are not saddled with 12 million new consumers of the welfare state;
- we don’t have 12 million new Democrat voters;
- those receiving the amnesty will not have the ability to spawn chain migration;
- before any amnesty is implemented, there is a complete establishment of visa tracking, border control, and mandatory E-verify to ensure that this won’t create another ‘Charlie Brown with the football’ scenario of more waves of illegal immigration;
- our legal immigration system move towards a merit-based process that favors high-skill immigrants instead of the current “Kennedy” system that is random and tendentious towards low-skilled immigrants.
Undoubtedly, Republican negotiators of reform proposals, like Marco Rubio, are well-intentioned in their desire to solve a serious problem with thoughtful solutions. However, if they are really committed to advancing conservative solutions and addressing conservative concerns about the immigration system, they must understand the adversity we all face with our Democrat opponents on this issue. Their proposals must be crafted to work not just in a world full of Marco Rubios and Paul Ryans, but in a political system full of Luis Gutierrezs and a judicial sphere full of ACLU and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) types. Hence, when proposing immigration bills, to know thy enemy is key.
Democrats like Luis Gutierrezs and Chuck Schumer believe that all 7 billion people in the world are born with a God-given right to immigrate to the United States. When they speak of “our broken immigration system,” they are not bemoaning our policies that are biased towards low-skilled immigration; they are complaining that our generous acceptance of over 1 million new immigrants every year, predominantly from the third world, is not enough. As such, they believe that illegal immigration is a natural and justified result of our refusal to let in even more low-skilled immigrants than we have already admitted over the past two decades. They believe that our unwillingness to immediately grant them amnesty is a violation of their natural rights, and is a reflection of our sinister bigotry towards others.
Perforce, when they speak of “comprehensive immigration reform” they are referring to the following: complete amnesty of all illegals so they can immediately sign up for welfare programs and commence the path towards becoming a permanent Democrat voting bloc; an even larger increase in legal immigration from the third world and from countries that represent a security risk; more welfare recipients now – enforcement later (or never).
This is the brutally honest reality of the liberal immigration policy desideratum. Any Republican who plunges into this debate while disregarding this reality is willfully ignoring the statements and actions of Democrats over the past several decades.
Marco Rubio is in the process of formulating and negotiating a proposal which he tells conservatives would deal with the aforementioned concerns. He claims that his proposal to grant work visas to a selected group of illegal immigrants based on paying a fine and learning English (much like the 2006/07 McCain-Kennedy amnesty bills) would not result in them receiving welfare benefits, and would force them to go to the back of the line to embark on the process of obtaining a green card and eventual citizenship (although they would not have to return to their country of origin – the place of the real line). He also says that he would like to reform our legal immigration system to one that pursues higher-skilled workers.
Again, the brutal reality is that if his proposal would indeed contain those guiding principles and red lines, his Democrat counterparts would never support it. Never. They will seek to adulterate it with poison pills that reflect their goals and aspirations. All too often, we’ve witnessed Republicans who become so emotionally invested in their proposals that they continue to promote them, even after they are completely co-opted by the left. Will Marco Rubio promise conservatives that he will stand by his demands and will not let the Democrats cross our red lines? Or will we stay the course and face the inevitability of a reform bill that guarantees amnesty/chain migration now with the vacuous promise of enforcement/conservative reforms later (think tax hikes now/spending cuts later)?
Will we really hold off on any amnesty until there is adequate visa tracking in place and operational control of the border? Why would all of the promises of enforcement actually work this time? Also, given Obama’s penchant for selective enforcement of our immigration laws, does anyone really believe he would enforce new laws? These are all questions that must be answered with confidence.
Furthermore, even if by some miracle Democrats agree to this grand bargain, they will view this as the first step, not the final piece of legislation. Once a significant portion of illegal immigrants become permanent legal residents, Democrats will demand that the rest of them obtain that status, even the ones who are not ‘churchgoing grandmothers’ who were here for 20 years.
Also, the next civil right will be welfare benefits and voting rights. It will never end. You simply can’t win a bidding war with Democrats over pandering to this constituency. Once Republicans agree to legalize them, it will be virtually impossible to stop the runaway train of subsequent congresses from granting them full privileges. As long as Republicans compromise, but leave a few issues on the table, Democrats will continue to use them as political footballs. A permanent legal underclass is a much more potent force than an illegal constituency. We can never get to the left of the Democrats on the issue. Ultimately, we will never make inroads with the Latino vote by out-flanking Democrat on amnesty; we will only win their vote, as Jim DeMint has said, by communicating to them how liberal policies have utterly failed them.
Moreover, proponents of Rubio-style proposals need to explain how we can legally firewall welfare benefits from those granted amnesty. There is a well-oiled, truculent legal defense community that will relentlessly sue for full privileges and an end to this status of “second-class citizen.” At present, these people lack many legal protections. Once they become legal, it will be very difficult to ensure they do not join the dependency utopia of blue America.
Remember, just the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit for illegal immigrants – a tiny portion of the welfare state – costs $24 billion over 10 years. That figure accounts for just 2.18 million illegals who are able to use a loophole to obtain the refundable credit. When you factor in the entire smorgasbord of programs for millions more, we’re talking about trillions in new welfare spending.
Rubio also needs to be clear as to what level of legal immigration he is seeking. Does he wish to expand high-skilled immigration without reducing the number of low-skilled immigrants?
These are all legitimate questions that need to be debated and analyzed before conservatives sign off on such a deal. A ‘secret’ bipartisan working group, which plans to foist upon us a final product is not going to cut it. Let’s remember that full amnesty for those who are here illegally is a lot to ask for. Many conservatives would be willing to entertain such an idea so long as we are ensured that it will not play into the hands of the left. However, we cannot panic and impetuously pursue amnesty under the false pretense that we will gain Hispanic support without first addressing some basic concerns.
If we’ve learned anything from the 1986 amnesty, it is that trust but verify is not going to cut it when it comes to illegal immigration policy. We need inviolable enforcement mechanisms on the enforcement side before we are prepared to make painful concessions. Otherwise, comprehensive immigration reform will look a lot like comprehensive healthcare reform. And we will be having this same debate in 20 years from now, albeit with a permanent Democrat majority.
Cross-posted from The Madison Project