Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) launched a full-court press to join the comprehensive immigration reform discussion today, with both a speech and a column at the Washington Times (where the Senator is evidently set to become a weekly op-ed contributor.)
Paul spent a good deal of his speech speaking in Spanish and reminiscing about his friendships with Hispanic people, but maybe not enough time detailing his position, because it soon became necessary for his office to clarify exactly where he stands on the "pathway to citizenship." (He's adamant that border security must come before amnesty, a position made much more clear in his Washington Times piece.)
I have mixed feelings about these seemingly obligatory encomiums to Hispanic friends by non-Hispanic Republican participants in the immigration reform discussion. We live in a world of testimonial politics, which can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable efforts to stress personal bonds to positions that should be open to logical, good faith discussion without them. (For another example, consider the spectacle of a gun-control enthusiast insisting that he throws frequent skeet-shooting parties, in a blatant pander to make gun owners think he's one of them.) Part of the reason for the Republican immigration reform drive is the cultivation of positive feelings from the existing, legal Hispanic electorate, a constituency they urgently need to approach. Still, I'd feel more comfortable with these "national conversations" if all participants could simply present their views for reasoned analysis by voters, without anyone feeling obliged to first spend a few minutes proving that he's not a racist.
But none of that is Rand Paul's fault - like most upstart Republicans, he's living in a world he never made. He knows the history of "comprehensive immigration reform" quite well, and cites it at the beginning of his Washington Times editorial:
I am in favor of immigration reform. I am also wary of reforms granted now for a promise of border security later. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a deal that made just such a promise, yet we are still waiting for the border security that never came. Conservatives are also still waiting for the promised three dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in tax hikes. Fool me once … So, it is understandable conservatives should insist that any immigration reform incorporate the principle of trust but verify.
In that vein, I approach these efforts in good faith. I will advance both immigration reform and verifiable border security. Under my plan for comprehensive reform the US would begin with prioritizing Visas for immigrants with advanced degrees, the so-called STEM Visas and an immediate expansion of the work Visa program. These reforms would happen immediately.
Here's what the "path to citizenship" looks like, from where Paul is standing:
After ensuring border security, then I would normalize the status of the 11 million undocumented citizens so they can join the workforce and pay taxes. I would normalize them at a rate of about 2 million per year. I would start with Dream Act kids, children brought here illegally as minors. Normalization would get them a temporary Visa but would not put them ahead of anyone already waiting to enter the country. These undocumented persons would now be documented but they would still have to wait in line like everyone else. But their path to permanent legal status would be no faster than those currently waiting in line.
There is no reason why a great country like ours wouldn’t want to keep those like Jonathan Chavez, who came here as a small child from Peru and has a 4.0 at the University of Arkansas.
Again with the personal stuff! (And, again, not to bust Senator Paul's chops too much, because every politician does this now, and I suppose the American people pretty much demand it.)
Oh, and hearty congratulations to Mr. Chavez on a job well done. But what, really, does his GPA have to do with all this? To put it another way, our position on the disposition of illegal immigrants and their native-born children should have absolutely nothing to do with the relative population of high achievers among them. This is a question of law and humanity, not a clever plan to vacuum up the world's high-scoring students. I think we're well past the point of talking about carefully rationed offers of citizenship to recruit the Jonathan Chavezes of the "undocumented citizen" population to play on Team America, aren't we? This is about everyone. I see no rational purpose in pretending otherwise, but that's my beef in a nutshell: this long ago ceased to be a rational debate.
Senator Paul uses the terms "undocumented citizens" and "undocumented persons" several times, by the way. We can't even describe the people we're talking about rationally any more. The use of the term "undocumented citizens" strongly implies that there's nothing left to do but document them, as quickly as possible.
There are a lot of living, breathing human beings involved here, and as polls demonstrate, the current American citizenry honestly cares about what happens to them. This should come as no surprise to any honest observer of the American people. Setting the human dimension aside, it leaves us with one more example of a problem created by the Left, which the political class will now "solve" to the enormous - perhaps decisive - political benefit of the Left. Years of lax border security and immigration law enforcement left us with the 11 million strong population we must now accept as new citizens, and what do you know, they tend to be strongly in favor of larger government. The new electorate ordered up by the political class has finally been delivered, and the political realities of 2013 mean American voters don't really have much to say about it. The "Dream Act" became a done deal without anyone voting for it.
It's actually quite a bit like the way yesterday's crazy deficit spending becomes today's iron-clad demand for higher taxes. Years are spent asking a question for which the answer has already been written.
Honor compels us to evaluate the amnesty situation without regard to the voting proclivities of our new provisional citizens, although I have to wonder if the Left would be so enthusiastic for mass border crossings and amnesty if they really were the "natural Republican constituency" of GOP consultants' dreams. I'll make no bones about it: I don't think our course should be a bit different if the only document carried by every "undocumented citizen" was a copy of Atlas Shrugged. We are discussing living human beings, and the great issue of American citizenship, not the political fortunes of a particular party.
Perhaps, from where we stand right now, there's no other way we could go but the "pathway to citizenship." The American people don't seem much interested in whittling down the illegal population through attrition over time, much less through any sort of mass deportation crackdown. The number of native-born children innocent of any conscious wrongdoing, raised by parents or grandparents who crossed the border illegally, has grown very large. Political pressure from those who court the votes of both the new provisional citizens and current Latino voters is great. Such things happen in a democratic republic, which is one reason they must reserve the right to control borders and citizenship.
But I think we still have some illusions about where things go from here. I doubt Senator Paul will be able to hold "normalization" to the rate he describes, or remain firm in his requirement for certified border security before the amnesty process begins. Nor will it be possible to keep our new citizens from quickly accessing both social welfare and the ballot box. Those things will all become the next great civil-rights issues, with anyone who insists on imposing burdens and restrictions upon our provisional citizens castigated as racist brutes.
Democrat senators Barbara Boxer of California, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California are already holding press events to declare immigration reform a "women's issue." Boxer declared, "We must pass comprehensive immigration reform that lifts women out of poverty, keeps families together and provides a real path to citizenship." That political process is not going to end if Rand Paul or Marco Rubio get the immigration reform plans they want; on the contrary, it will intensify.
And frankly, even leaving such rough political play aside, I doubt the American people would long remain comfortable with a new pseudo-class of restricted citizen. It won't make sense to them, and they'll be right. Just for starters, the rationale behind ObamaCare was to socialize the cost of coverage for the "uninsurable." No traceable citizen of any legal status will be allowed to remain outside of it. (You might not thank us for that one, provisional citizens!)
Also, Senator Paul said he wants the new provisional citizens to "join the workforce and pay taxes." Every proposal floating around out there, including Rubio's plan, calls for illegal aliens to pay back taxes in order to begin the normalization process. I'm deeply skeptical such a thing will ever happen - how will those taxes be computed? Where do these generally impoverished people get the money? But let's say they do pay their back taxes. How in the world could we then keep them from voting, or plugging into the rest of Big Government, for any period of time? Isn't taxation without representation wrong?
The political class has never been honest with American voters about illegal immigration, not in 1986 and not today. Many well-meaning politicians are not honest with themselves. I don't see any sign that will change, or that the political forces keeping our border porous are going to dissipate. Policing the border is a thankless task for Big Government politicians, and they quite enjoy the consequences of failure.