FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Why the Immigration Bill is Doomed to Succeed
Vidalia, Georgia, is actually a pleasant place. Most Yankees would think it a blip on the road as they drive through (do Yankees drive?), but it’s actually in many ways a very pleasant Georgia town with nice people, a certain kind of picturesque landscape, and a subtly bustling work ethic.
Vidalia is (unfairly) famous for one thing and one thing only: its sweet onions. The soil in the Vidalia area produces a special kind of onion that is actually palatable raw, unlike most onions which require cooking or disguise inside of some other food. As with most agricultural producers, the farmers who produce those onions have historically relied on migrant day labor to harvest the crops. In pre-2013 PC-speak, of course, “migrant day labor” means “illegal aliens.” (Now, it apparently means “undocumented already-Americans whom racists won’t admit are already Americans.”)
The onion crop is harvested by undocumented-already-Americans in the spring, and so in 1998, after the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the precursor to the lightning-quick and efficient Immigration and Customs Enforcement) spent over a year warning the farmers that they were cheating the wage and hour laws and the immigration laws and that this was, you know, illegal, INS decided to launch raids on the farms when the illegals, pardon, undocumenteds would be present.
That’s harvest time.
The farmers squawked. Congressman Jack Kingston and the late Senator Paul Coverdell, both Republicans, took time out of failing to do anything in particular about the Clinton Administration and thundered at INS. INS knew who wrote their checks and who was President at the time and so backed down. The “compromise” the parties reached would be utterly unsurprising to anyone who has watched American immigration policy in execution for the last three decades: INS would agree not to deport any illegals, the farmers would pinky swear not to do this again, and the Republican Congressmen, one of whom had spent a decade thundering about illegal immigration, praised this humane solution.
Coverdell, absolutely immune to situational irony, implied that INS was duty-bound to ignore the immigration laws because the laws had been flouted and largely ignored for years by that point.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. It is basically the way in which Republicans have approached immigration for nearly three decades: when the rubes are listening it’s secure the border and our laws must be obeyed. When money talks, it’s the rules are for suckers.
Senators Ayotte and Rubio are of course the most recent examples of this; they are hardly alone.
The problem is of course larger than immigration. It extends to the pro-life cause (Republicans are not nearly in danger of taking federal funds from Planned Parenthood, and abortion will be unsafe, legal, and common into the twenty-second century in no small parts thanks to the party), spending (John McCain is not the only Senator to rail against prolific spending in general and demand it for his home state), and indeed, almost everything else. (I could also take shots at former Presidents Bush and Reagan, but you get the idea.)
Yet today, the issue is immigration, so let’s discuss that.
We Will Have Comprehensive Immigration Reform Precisely Because It’s A Bad Idea
I feel I should put my cards on the table. My views on immigration have liberalized over the last eight years, spurred in part by my realization at the time that world birth rates are plummeting, and by the realization that Republicans dare not actually do anything to fix the mess they’ve created over the last three decades. I favor legalization of those here (blah blah exceptions) and a path to citizenship, albeit one significantly more arduous than legal immigrants face. (We should not, after all, reward lawbreaking, even if we must stomach it.) We don’t make new people at home, so we need more of them, and as business interests just want a helot class, I want to deny them that.
I feel we also need to liberalize our unskilled and skilled immigration laws to allow more of both into the country.
But I also feel that it is important to be honest. An honest description of what I am describing, regardless of any soon-to-be-waived taxes or fines on which legalization and citizenship are predicated, is an amnesty. The immigration bill before the Senate now, with due respect to Congressman Ryan, is an amnesty, in the same way that the militia will be absolved of its crimes if it disarms is an amnesty. No one thinks the latter isn’t an amnesty; merely because conditions are attached to legal forgiveness of lawbreaking does not change the nature of the forgiveness.
I say all of this because I feel we also need to know what elected Republicans have said for three decades. They say we must secure the border and our laws must be respected when facing the electorate. But what they are really saying by their actions is this:
We think you’re too stupid to get this, so here it is. We don’t care about being a permanent minority party under Democrat rule. We don’t care about depressing and at the same time burdening the labor market in weird ways. We don’t care about a political shift to the left because frankly that’s where we live anyway. We don’t care about enforcing the law, and that after what we’ve done for three decades you think we do, is a persuasive argument about ending elections permanently. We think you’re all a bunch of dumb racists, you were too stupid to know not to elect us, and so we are going to have a big amnesty and make the next wave of this easier because our big money backers think you’re dumb racists and half of them want a helot class. Dig? What are you gonna do, vote for the Democrats?
Now as I said, this is hardly limited to immigration. If you took the Republican Party at its word, you would expect to see men and women dedicated to cutting spending, balancing the budget, ending the slaughter of the unborn, enforcing our laws, beefing up our national security, and slowly easing down the welfare state. If you take them on their actions, you would expect to hear them talk about growing government, running deficits, keeping abortion legal, tossing our laws out the window, spending a lot on defense systems while shuddering at using them, and expanding entitlements.
The problem for Republicans is that on none of these things have they been honest. Ayotte and Rubio campaigned against comprehensive immigration reform and are now staking their credibility on it. The House leadership is a reminder that the House leadership is pretty awful and worse, hasn’t really changed since the 2006 drubbing.
So when Rubio or Cornyn (haha!) or any other Republican other than John McCain promises there will be border security, no one believes them because no one is that stupid any longer. When they promise that there will be hurdles to jump before the people whose first act on entering our country was to break our laws can become citizens, no one believes them because those hurdles are already being horse-traded away, and again, three decades is too long for even Republican voters to remain stupid.
But the bill will pass anyway. Elected Republicans will calculate that the opponents of the bill are racists, because the fellow members of their class will say so, and will ignore the fact that it merely fossilizes decades of broken promises, burdens the labor market, dragoons employers into being federal agents, does nothing to alleviate labor shortages, depresses prevailing wages, expands entitlement spending, and incidentally treats our laws as dreck.
Because, and this is important, they don’t care about those things either.
But the Party Will Suffer
The problem in the short term is not the anti-immigration-reform folks (as opposed to anti-immigrant folks, who are a fraction of a fraction of a minority, or the racists, who are less). Republicans know they’ll just stupidly vote for Republicans, because the Democrats are at least honest about what they’re doing.
The short term problem is that the upset people, racist or not, anti-immigrant or not, will jump like scalded cats, and media folks desperate to protect the Precious will latch onto this to prove Republicans are racist. Good-bye independent votes, hello President Clinton, Redux. That Marco Rubio cannot see this, and cannot see what he is creating, should permanently disqualify him from the Presidency.
The long run problem is that those same people will gradually wonder why they bother. They will be like those missing Republican voters in 2000 and 2012 who looked at what was on offer and couldn’t figure out why to vote. Lest you think they were wrong to make that conclusion (and they were), you aren’t going to argue them out of it. And God knows we don’t try, and even if we did, I’m not sure what we’d say to them.
The problem is that in the long run, Republican voters will realize that their elected officials hold them in contempt, and accelerate the path downhill. That’s a bad thing, though as I get older, the relative badness of it seems less with each passing day.
But don’t worry. There will always be a few rubes left who believe Republicans.