Immigration opponents usually fall into one of two categories — those who know nothing about what is in the bill and those who fancy themselves as experts and can recite it chapter and verse. What both categories of opponents lack, however, is a coherent argument against an immigration-reform bill. (Understand the bill in its current version will not be the final law. It will get amended on the Senate floor, and a wholly different House bill will emerge, followed by a conference with more wrangling.)
Let’s start with the strain of argument that says the border provisions are too weak and therefore won’t solve the problem or will encourage more illegal immigration. These very same people were often in favor of nearly identical measures (double fencing, more money for security, drone surveillance, etc. ) with the only difference being that this version includes a pathway to citizenship. Were the anti-Gang of 8 types proposing useless measures or did they think that border security was worth doing when they were pushing all those border-security steps?
Well, they respond, you can’t trust the Obama administration and by allowing a path to citizenship with a less-than-airtight border you’re going to wind up worse than before.
With due respect, this makes no sense. You don’t draft legislation with the idea that President Obama will be in office forever (and in fact he’ll be gone well before many of the provisions kick in). Moreover, which is better — Obama with no meaningful border-security legislation (and deciding by executive order to grant legal status to certain groups) or Obama with a ton of border-security measures and oversight by Congress?
The argument that border-security measures have to be nearly perfect when a bill includes legalization is nonsensical. Right now there is every incentive for illegal immigrants to come and find work. After the bill, even if not perfect, it will be a lot harder to come here and to find work (with E-Verify); there will also be less incentive to do so with a guest-worker program that allows low-skill employees to come and go. (In the 1950s and 1960s illegal immigration was low for this very reason). Finally, the incentive for illegal immigration has already lessened due to the U.S. economy and declining birthrates in Mexico. In short, the border is fairly secure now (we have a net outflow of people), but the measures in a Gang of 8-type bill will make things better, likely a whole lot better. So is the current system better than a system proposed by legislation in which it will be a lot harder to get here and find work? No.
Then there is the argument that we’re not assimilating immigrants and need to take a “break.” Wait. The immigration-reform bill encourages English-language proficiency and, with the offer of citizenship, lures workers into the mainstream of civic life. And obviously we can and should devote more effort toward assimilation in schools and through private and public institutions. Moreover, the “break” comes when we attain better border security, which this bill will promote.
Immigration opponents: “But as a Republican I can’t see creating 11 million new Democrats.” We can say: Relax. Breathe deeply. The bill won’t unless Republicans deserve to die off anyway. For starters, not all 11 million immigrants will qualify for citizenship, and even those who do may not want to pursue it due to the fines and the requirement for payment of back taxes. To say that those who came here for a better life (an entrepreneurial act) and went through all the financial requirements and trouble to get citizenship and then to vote can’t be won over by conservatives is preposterous. (If it is true, by the way, conservatism should die because a political philosophy applicable to only one race or social class is not morally or politically sustainable.) Moreover, this overlooks the reality that until they stop threatening to deport immigrants, conservatives will not get an audience with a range of minority communities and will continue to offend moderate voters, women, and young urbanites who regard the GOP as “intolerant.”
The stray arguments against immigration reform are no better.
The cost? Even the opponents are in favor of spending money for border enforcement, and, aside from the hugely flawed Heritage study, the large bulk of economists consider immigration pro-growth, pro-jobs and helpful in increasing revenue.
Then there is the “rule of law” hooey. If we give “amnesty” it will induce less respect for the law. To begin with, it isn’t amnesty if you have to pay a fine, pay back taxes and wait an inordinate amount of time to be legal. More to the point, the current system is abject lawlessness and non-enforcement, which does breed contempt for the law. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) likes to say, the current system is de facto amnesty.
Reduced to virtually no coherent argument, immigration opponents rail that they can’t give the president “a win.” Give me a break. That’s akin to hoping Iran gets the bomb so it will make Obama look really bad. Moreover, Obama has done virtually nothing for the bill. In fact, even he understands he must shut up if the bill is to succeed. If it gets through, the glory will go to Republican reformers.
The anti-immigration-reform advocates’ arguments are so weak one can only imagine that they really do fancy rounding up immigrants or watching “self-deportation” so as to live in an America that never really was but seems, in their eyes, to be more homogeneous. Once they give up the fantasy that they can deport or chase out 11 million people and the false memory they carry of bygone days they might look upon immigration reform as we do any legislation: Does it do more good than harm? Is the status quo lousy? Then we might have a candid discussion about the details of the bill.