That sounds very grave. There’s just one problem: The border today is more secure than it has been in years, according to virtually every yardstick accepted by Republican and Democratic administrations for decades. Illegal crossings, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, are at their lowest level in 40 years, and rates of nearly all measurable crimes are plummeting in border communities.
In truth, then, the real message on immigration from most of the candidates is this: We can’t fix the broken system, or deal with illegal immigrants until, well, ever. Because even if we understand that 11 million people cannot be deported and must be granted some form of amnesty — the dreaded word! — our conservative base will punish us if we admit it, let alone undertake it.
Mr. Perry struck first, accusing President Obama of possessing terrible intelligence, or being an “abject liar,” for telling a crowd in El Paso that the border is safer than it’s ever been. In fact, it’s Mr. Perry whose relationship to the truth is at arm’s length. In his El Paso speech, Mr. Obama merely claimed “important progress” on securing the border, which is statistically undeniable, and he cited the huge additional resources the federal government — starting with President George W. Bush — has dispatched there in recent years.
Beyond that, Mr. Perry had nothing significant to contribute to the conversation on immigration. That may be because his positions are in fact much more closely aligned with Democratic views, and reality, than his own party’s hard-line stance.
Mr. Perry has opposed fencing the entire 2,000-mile border, correctly labeling it a “preposterous idea” that wouldn’t deter many illegal crossers. He favors a sensible guest worker program to meet the labor market’s demand, a proposal that many Republicans regard as amnesty by another name. And he was the nation’s first governor to sign legislation extending tuition breaks to the blameless children of illegal immigrants who attend colleges and universities. That in particular is an act of heresy for most of today’s GOP politicians.
Then there was Mitt Romney, whose position on the issue is a sterling example of incoherence. The former Massachusetts governor twice declared that “we ought to have a fence” running the length of the border, but he acknowledged that any fence would be highly porous and ineffective. That amounted to a pledge to spend billions of dollars to no meaningful effect.