Rhetorical gimmickry on immigration

One of the rhetorical gimmicks most frequently employed by Republicans in the tax debate is to falsely present the Democratic position as only calling for tax hikes, when in fact Dems have long supported a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts. The game here is to present the Dem and GOP positions (the Republican position being that we must fix our fiscal problems only through spending cuts) as polar opposites, when in fact Dems, broadly speaking, inhabit the compromising middle ground in the debate — the one supported by majorities of Americans — and Republicans don’t.

Now we’re seeing this same trick popping up in the immigration debate. This exchange at today’s immigration hearing between San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is worth noting, because it’s a hint of where this is heading:

“I want to give you an opportunity to answer the question of the day,” Goodlatte said, “and that is this: Are there options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?”

Castro said he doesn’t see a pathway to citizenship as “an extreme option,” pointing out that Congress has previously chosen that option and arguing that it has worked.

“I would disagree with that characterization of that as the extreme,” Castro said. “The extreme I would say just to fill that out, would be open borders. Nobody agrees with open borders. Everyone agrees that we need to secure our border.”

In this telling, the two “extremes” in the debate are mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship. But of course, supporting a pathway to citizenship is not an extreme position at all. A recent Associated Press poll found that it’s supported by more than six in 10 Americans. Other polls from the Post, CNN, and Politico also found sizable majorities supportive of the same.

Beyond this, though, is another basic fact: The Dem position is not simply to offer a path to citizenship. It’s a path to citizenship with conditions and penalties attached, and combined with aggressive border enforcement. By any reasonable measure, it’s the middle ground, compromise position. Goodlatte’s framing is meant to obscure this, and you’ll be hearing a lot more of it.

There’s a broader values debate lurking under all of this. The liberal position is that even if the 11 million broke the rules, ultimately integrating them into American life is a good thing for the country and is in line with American values, identity, and tradition. The conservative position is that this constitutes giving something away to freeloading lawbreakers — in effect, rewarding “takers” with the jobs that rightfully belong to Americans.

Gauging public opinion on this is tricky. But a recent Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies poll taken for SEIU found that only 30 percent agree that “we need to take care of Americans first before we reward those who have broken our laws with amnesty,” while 62 percent agree that “America is stronger when immigrants get legal and pay taxes.” And so I’d wager that on the broader debate about American values and what we want the country to be, the Dem position is the mainstream one, too.

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UPDATE: Obviously it should be noted that Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio are also in line with the Dem position, which is a mix of enforcement and a path to citizenship. The vast majority of Republicans in the House, however, don’t appear prepared to accept this prescription — which is already further to the right of previous versions of immigration reform.

 

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