The Immigration Trap

The Immigration Trap
April 25, 2013

Benjamin Domenech

Benjamin Domenech (bdomenech@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. Domenech... (read full bio)

The Democrats have gotten the great Republican hope, Marco Rubio, to sign on  to a measure that accomplishes nearly all of their goals on immigration:

“The pre-bill marketing campaign — driven by  leaks that seemed to come from Republican negotiators — focused on stringent new  border-control measures and a long, difficult path to citizenship. The goal was  to minimize conservative opposition by creating a first impression of the bill  as a tough solution to the country’s illegal immigration problem. But when  Democrats got a look at the 844-page measure, they discovered that their  negotiators extracted more concessions than they thought possible. Those include  an expansive version of the DREAM Act and subtle but meaningful tradeoffs on all  the major pieces of the system, from family reunification to legalization and  border security… Republicans succeeded in making the path to legalization  contingent upon the government meeting border security benchmarks, prohibiting  undocumented immigrants from accessing federal benefits even as they pay taxes,  blocking a provision to allow foreign spouses of same-sex couples to apply for  visas, and creating a temporary worker program. But in return, Democrats got  what Mary Giovagnoli, a former Kennedy immigration aide and director of the  Immigration Policy Center, called an “extremely generous legalization  program.”

About the only thing they didn’t get was their preferred cutoff date of  December 31, 2012. Everything else is in there.

The problem for the Republican Party is that either path they follow on the  immigration policy front leads to all sorts of bad things. Consider Conn  Carroll’s proposal here in this context:

“Why not give those found illegally in the United  States a simple choice? You can stay and become legal by registering with the  federal government, but if you do, you forfeit all chance of becoming an  American citizen. This offer would depend, of course, on passing an extensive  background check paid for by the immigrant in question. And if this policy was open not just to those in the country today, but also those found illegally in  the country tomorrow, it would not be amnesty in any way. It would just be a new legal alternative to deportation. Considering that far less than half of those  who were granted resident status in 1986 ever bothered to become citizens, why  are Democrats so focused on guaranteeing citizenship this time around?”

Trying to find a middle path between amnesty and deportation sounds well and  good – I don’t share Peter Skerry’s view that there needs to be a prohibition on  eventual citizenship, but what Carroll proposes is certainly better than the  status quo and the current proposal – the challenge is that neither side will  find Carroll’s position acceptable. There is no appetite for meeting the actual  market needs for low-skilled labor – for legalizing people without making them  citizens. The Michelle Malkins of the world will yell shamnesty (they will not  be content until millions of people are packed into train cars and headed  south), while on the other side, Marco Rubio’s press secretary compared the idea outright to slavery.

What we have here is more than a failure to communicate, it’s a failure of  leadership. The immigration policy negotiation should’ve been an opportunity for  Rubio to prove that he is more than just a biography staffed by the ambitious.  Instead, he may have made an  error that could prove crippling by jumping into this fractious policy arena  before the base has been brought along to where the party elite is on the  subject, provoking all sorts of backlash not just from Rush Limbaugh listeners but now getting into it with the Heritage Foundation, too. It’s a classic big unwieldy bit of Washington pork barrel politics, with carveouts for state interests.

Or maybe the problem is that the bill just won’t do what was promised. Byron  York:

“One key trigger, they claimed, was the creation  and empowerment of something called the Southern Border Security Commission. If  within five years after the passage of the bill, the Secretary of Homeland  Security has failed to increase border security to a level in which 100 percent  of the border is under surveillance and 90 percent of those attempting to cross  illegally are caught — if Homeland Security has not reached those goals, then  the Commission would be formed. It wouldn’t be the standard, do-nothing  Washington commission, Gang sources argued. Instead, it would have real legal  authority to actually carry out the border security measures that the Secretary of Homeland Security had failed to accomplish.”

“It sounded tough, intended to convince skeptical  conservatives that reform would be based on stringent border security. But as it  turns out, the structure Gang sources described is simply not in the bill… The  bill requires that the head of the Government Accountability Office then review  the report to determine whether the Commission’s recommendations are likely to  work and what they will cost. And then — the process stops. “The Commission  shall terminate 30 days after the date on which the report is submitted,” says  the bill. There is nothing about the Commission going from “being an advisory  panel to a policy-making one.” The strict trigger that Gang sources advertised  as being in the bill just isn’t there.”

Mickey Kaus has more on that here.

The Gang will continue to try to emphasize the security portions of the law in the days ahead, in response to the backlash  over Boston. But it remains to be seen if any of that will  stick. Claims like this from Dick Durbin just don’t make sense at all, and sound like the bluster they  are. Waiting on the sidelines are hardliners like Ted  Cruz, who could prove very problematic for Rubio. And none of the  participants are operating from a position of real  trust on the issue. It’s just a great big mess.

This could all reach a boiling point in the days ahead, one that will only  please the White House, given that they never wanted a policy to pass to begin  with, as I noted back in January.

“The President apparently likes this situation  just fine: he’s now weighed in with his own framework for an immigration plan,  which does absolutely nothing in terms of meaningful reform targeted at the root  cause of the problem (the persistent black market in unskilled labor) and  instead amounts to Simpson Mazzoli 2013. Why would the president do such a  thing, making passage of an immigration plan less likely by coming out in favor  of an even more obviously political ploy in lieu of a real policy solution?  Isn’t it obvious? … The mission isn’t a reasonable solution for very real  immigration policy problems, it’s political destruction of the enemy. Thus, Democrats benefit either way, even if the nation doesn’t.”

So OFA will make a push, but it’s a win-win for Obama even if that doesn’t succeed.  And so we end up with the Cesar  Chavez world persisting, and none of the real problems

[First published at Real Clear Politics]

Benjamin Domenech

Benjamin Domenech (bdomenech@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. Domenech... (read full bio)