With the defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor at the hands of Dave Brat, immigration reform has been pronounced dead for this session of Congress.
But it should have never been an option until after the 2014 elections. Passing terrible bills with the support of Harry Reid’s Senate would have been awfully foolish if turned out that Republicans would retake the Senate only a few months later.
If Republicans retain the House and retake the Senate, they should attempt to do something about immigration and eliminate it as a future point of contention. Republicans need to have a comprehensive vision and plan for action. But that does not mean they should try to pack all immigration reform into one bill and hope everyone will agree with everything it contains. That is not a successful model for getting the issue out of the way, in fact it has had the opposite effect.
Republicans need to establish three general principles before doing anything:
1: The border must be totally secured.
2: The legal immigration system must be repaired.
3: Granting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is not an option.
Republicans should then act on the first principle. Legislation needs to be introduced to order the construction of a full, impenetrable fence along the southern border. That is the only way to truly seal the border. The fence may also be supplemented with cameras, increased patrols, and aerial surveillance. If we can maintain total control of the border, we have already won half the battle. This will cost a good deal of money, so we can offset the costs by cutting corporate welfare and/or foreign aid.
After the first source of illegal immigration-a porous border-is cut off, Republicans should next attempt to fix the broken legal immigration system. We have to find a way to stop immigrants from overstaying their visas. This is often overlooked, but it is a major contributing factor to the number of illegal immigrants we have in this country. And it applies to all countries, not just Mexico. Some have suggested that E-Verify be mandated nationally, but this has constitutional and privacy issues, and there are concerns it is equivalent to a national ID card. A similar but better option would be to prosecute employers who hire illegal immigrants; this would give an incentive to employers to check the status of their workers on their own rather than set up a federal database of worker information. Another option would be to require employers withhold a percentage of the migrant workers pay which they can receive upon exiting the country. Since many migrant workers come to work here in order to send money back to their families, this would provide a strong incentive for them to follow the law.
With the two sources of illegal immigration under control, Republicans can then move on to dealing with the people who are already here. It is this aspect of immigration reform that invites the buzzword “amnesty” to the table. Amnesty in its simplest sense means a pardon for breaking the law. But it does mean different things to different people. For some, it means anything other than total deportation of all illegals. For others, it means granting citizenship to illegals. Right now we have de facto amnesty in that millions of illegal immigrants are being allowed to stay. We should focus less on the confusing word “amnesty” and more on the specifics of the proposals being presented. The current status quo isn’t acceptable and something does need to be done.
One proposal would grant blanket citizenship to illegals. This was manifested in the Gang of Eight proposal, which included Jeff Flake, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio on the Republican side. This proposal would violate the third principle specified earlier. It is absolutely crucial that a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is not established. The main problem is that those illegals would be granted the right to vote, jeopardizing Republican electoral chances-along with constitutional government-for generations. Another issue is that these illegals, who are largely poor, would present a strain on the public services and welfare of the country. In short, this option would be completely unacceptable.
Another proposal would be to deport all illegal immigrants back to where they came from. This has been championed by Congressmen such as Steve King and Tom Tancredo. While in principle this sounds like a great idea, in reality it would not be possible, and if it was, it would come at a great cost. First, there would be severe electoral consequences. Many voters would view this as inhumane and Hispanic voters would be highly motivated to register to vote and turn out to the polls. This could very well result in the Republicans being thrown out of office and we could see the aforementioned proposal of blanket citizenship swiftly passed, along with other liberal legislation. There is also the issue of practicality. It would not be easy to round up between 11-20 million illegal immigrants without violating the constitutional rights of Americans. Courts could potentially halt the roundup. As good as this proposal sounds in theory, it would never get off the ground, and if it did, it would be shut down swiftly.
With the first proposal being unconscionable and the second proposal being impractical, I am inclined to support a middle of the road solution. I call it the Newt Gingrich-Rand Paul Plan. In 2012, former Speaker Newt Gingrich articulated this plan as part of his presidential campaign and in recent months so has presidential aspirant Senator Rand Paul. This plan complies with all three of the immigration principles for Republicans outlined earlier. Instead of deporting all illegal immigrants (violent criminals would still be deported) and instead of granting all illegal immigrants blanket citizenship, they would be granted a legal status which would allow them to reside here as long as they complied with certain restrictions. This plan sidesteps the electoral backlash in the wake of mass deportations, just as it avoids the consequences of giving millions of illegals the right to vote and receive public benefits. If there is a better plan in dealing with those already here in realistic manner, it has yet to be presented.
If Republicans legislators will follow the three principles mentioned above, they can craft a viable and effect plan to reform our broken immigration system. We need to find common ground, accomplish our goals in a piecemeal manner, and put this issue to rest.