The GOP just released a set of principles that it considers necessary as preconditions to the passage of an immigration reform bill. There are many commonalities between the House document – which is only a page long and speaks generally about what would be necessary for them to pass any such reform – and the “bipartisan” Senate immigration bill backed by such strategic geniuses as Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio, but addresses two of the most important flaws with that (once again gargantuan) Senate bill.
1) Border enforcement in the Senate bill was handled through spending increases promised AFTER amnesty was granted by a full decade. This presages a massive rush of illegal immigration that would flood the country with 30 million people who didn’t respect our laws enough to come here legally and who would overwhelm the workforce with unskilled labor that would put the working poor in America out of jobs.
2) Incredibly, the Senate bill would have made it extremely difficult for border patrol officials and state police in border states to do their jobs – ending, for example, the practice of deporting people found in the commission of serious crimes without legal citizenship.
The House agenda on immigration, however, is not satisfactory to this commentator either. They wish to create a class of illegal, undocumented workers through reforms that say that if you got here illegally, you would be granted legal status, but not citizenship. The GOP is thinking of this as compromise…but all this will accomplish is to exaggerate the already existing state of class duality between illegal immigrants and American citizens. It will encourage people to come here illegally on the promise of access to the services provided by our more robust government and by a healthier job market, but never grant them the vote or access to social security or medicare or any of the other big ticket items that make living here attractive to legal immigrants. Strategically, this will result in a long string of rhetoric from Democrats about how the GOP wanted minority immigrants to be second class citizens all along and cost the GOP any support it might think it’s winning by participating in bipartisan reform among Hispanics and other minority groups.
So…what sort of compromise will maximize happiness in Hispanic communities without giving the Democrats a gigantic political victory that would cripple Republicans for years to come? What is fair in a society that respects the rule of law, but also respects the personhood of all within its borders?
On the humanitarian score, “pathway to legal status” is not a solution. It will create a wedge issue that will destroy the GOP brand among Hispanics, and for good reason. Why on Earth would we give illegal immigrants legal status but make them second class citizens as the price for their initial act of illegality?
The libertarian answer is to create a pathway to citizenship, enforce the laws we have more aggressively, and massively expand the guest-worker program. But this, too, seems unsatisfactory – and exploitative. Let them come here to work and benefit our economy through cheap labor (and cripple the American citizens’ job prospects, oh BTW), but do nothing to improve the paths people have to reach citizenship?
The tea party is, predictably, naive on this issue, insisting that the GOP take a hard line stance and begin deporting illegal immigrants while building giant border walls as though we live in Soviet Russia. I want to be sympathetic here – I understand that in border states, there’s a big problem with crime associated with illegal immigrants who come to the country for person gains and do not respect our laws. But not every immigrant comes here illegally because he or she does not respect our laws. Many illegals come here because they are just flat desperate – desperate to live the American dream and escape the harsh criminal elements that dominate police forces and city streets throughout the developing Hispanic world. They’d do it legally, but the process of obtaining legal citizenship is even more byzantine than the process for a legal citizen to obtain a driver’s license or supplemental security income (trust me…I have experience with the latter…it is brutally complex and takes forEVER…and immigration is even worse).
This is a major political headache for the GOP – one that they are trying to cure while they have momentum. Many are asking why the GOP is even taking up the issue now while the democrats are reeling and prospects for a GOP takeover of the Senate are excellent? I believe it’s because they don’t want to have to keep dealing with this issue and figure now is a good time to handle it while their political capital for the upcoming election is massive (the Unaffordable “Care” Act will see to that).
But they’ll need to tread lightly. They’ll need to pass something that the base can swallow while still wishing to end Obamacare and replace it with something better. So this is what I would do:
- FIRST: enforce the borders. Not in a decade, not in five years, not with promissory notes for future spending that could be nixed at the whim of the democrats when they again have control. Now.
- SECOND: Grant legal status (but not citizenship right away) to all those here illegally through the guest worker program after two years following the passage of the bill.
- THIRD: Create a pathway to citizenship for those who received a guest worker card, but require that they get in line with everyone else attempting to emigrate here legally, that they learn English, and that they pass a basic citizenship exam like everyone else who comes here legally.
- FOURTH: Massively increase the authority of the border patrol, the FBI, and state and local police forces to immediately deport guest workers convicted of a crime – we expect that all people, including those arriving through immigration, will respect the rule of law.
- FIFTH: Extend some critical benefits to all guest workers…give them a hand up with job placement programs, education credits so they can learn the language and train themselves with new skills, access to health services – but do not give guest workers access to the hand out portions of the social welfare state. Do not grant them unemployment or social security (and do not tax their work for social security until they are legally citizens – we want to be fair here) or SNAP cards. We want to create an environment that makes sure the basic needs are provided for that give all immigrants a real chance at the American dream without turning the country’s welfare programs into a blank check for non-citizens who arrived illegally for the purpose of obtaining those benefits.
- SIXTH: Revoke guest worker status and deport those who fail to continue looking for work and do not possess gainful employment for more than one year. We also expect that if you come to America, you not contribute to the problem of unemployment, and we do not view deportation is cruel in that case (if you’re not finding work here, perhaps you should try elsewhere?).
- SEVENTH: Dramatically increase the limits currently in place for legal immigration…make it easier to come here legally.
I’m trying to find the balance between a desire to be welcoming to all people who would wish to share in the American way of life and the need to make sure that everyone here respects the rule of law and blends successfully with our culture so that they will not be exploited as cheap labor. This represents a first draft of my thoughts on the issue, and I would welcome constructive criticism.