I have a lot of respect for Charles Krauthammer — he’s intelligent, measured, and not a party hack. But his column today has an amazingly reductionist and wrong-headed discussion of immigration.
The second half of the piece is quite sensible, concluding, “The answer to Romney’s failure is not retreat, not aping the Democrats’ patchwork pandering. It is to make the case for restrained, rationalized and reformed government in stark contradistinction to Obama’s increasingly unsustainable big-spending, big-government paternalism.” Bravo.
But the first half is unworthy of him (the emphases are mine):
They lose and immediately the chorus begins. Republicans must change or die. A rump party of white America, it must adapt to evolving demographics or forever be the minority.
The only part of this that is even partially true regards Hispanics. They should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example).
This is an example of the “My nonno from Palermo” school of immigration sentimentality. Unfortunately, it’s not 1912 anymore. The tired claim that there’s a Republican inside each Latin American immigrant just waiting to get out is as foolish as the fantasy of a decade ago that there was a Jeffersonian Democrat in the heart of each Iraqi and we had only to release him. Heather Mac Donald has thoroughly addressed this.
The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants.
Does anyone actually believe this? Two-thirds of Mexican immigrant families are in or near poverty and fully 57 percent use at least one welfare program. This doesn’t make them bad people — for the most part they’re hard workers, not moochers. But does that sound like a constituency that’s ready to vote for tax cuts and smaller government if only the GOP embraced amnesty and expanded immigration?
In securing the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney made the strategic error of (unnecessarily) going to the right of Rick Perry. Romney could never successfully tack back.
Support for E-Verify, a modified DREAM Act, and increased legal immigration is too far to the right on immigration? Really? Then where’s the center?
For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty.
The Fence Fetish afflicts people who don’t understand the mechanics of immigration. We have a border fence, better than we’ve ever had, albeit still not an adequate one. Should there be more of it? Yes. Should more of it be a real, double-layered, Israeli-style obstacle rather than just a low vehicle barrier, as most of it is now? Certainly. Would that help reduce illegal immigration? You bet.
But we could have the frelling Great Wall of China on the Mexican border and it wouldn’t “solve” the problem. Close to half of illegal immigration consists of people who enter legally but never leave. Thousands of others use fraud to pass through our land border crossings. Others come across the Canadian border or sneak in by sea.
The only thing that works is layered enforcement — better border fencing, obviously, but also tougher scrutiny of visa applicants abroad, more effective screening at ports of entry, and enforcement inside the country to identify visa overstayers and prevent illegals from being able to put down roots. There’s nothing simple about any of that, and the implacable opposition of many interests on the left and the right to those efforts would make it quite difficult to implement and sustain.
Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe — full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.
If we’re going to amnesty some illegals, then, yes, we should just call it that. I’m delighted to see Dr. K living not by lies. But actually I’m to the “left” of him on this one — whoever we do amnesty should receive genuine “full legal normalization”, i.e. a green card leading to citizenship, if the person chooses and qualifies. The “just short of citizenship” approach is both impractical and pernicious. Impractical because lifting the “just short” part (even if it were to end up in a final bill, which is doubtful) would become the new anti-Republican rallying cry of the open-borders left and they would likely succeed, undoing whatever compromise was intended. And if they failed to undo it, we would have created a formally two-tiered society, something more like Saudi Arabia than a republic of citizens.
I’ve always been of the “enforcement first” school, with the subsequent promise of legalization. I still think it’s the better policy. But many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front. Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.
It is prudent and sensible to favor amnesty for the remaining non-violent, long-term illegal aliens after a fully articulated enforcement system is in place and functioning and proven. But that will require some time, not just to staff up and put the physical and IT infrastructure in place but also to overcome the years-long scorched-earth litigation campaign the ACLU and its comrades will launch to stop all enforcement initiatives. (Or do you think they’ll feel bound by whatever illusory deal their congressional allies are compelled to settle for?)
But guaranteeing amnesty once the four southern-border-state governors say it’s okay is foolish. Illegal immigration across the border is already way down (though we’d need a definition for a “trickle”). What happens when the economy picks up? And do we really want Jerry Brown deciding the fate of the nation? As Mickey Kaus writes, “This is a national problem. Illegal immigrants are now almost everywhere, as pundits assured us during the recent election. You don’t delegate national problems to non-national decision makers. Would Krauthammer let, say, the governors of Michigan (lots of Arabs);and New York (lots of Jews) decide whether to launch a strike on Iran?”
Imagine Marco Rubio advancing such a policy on the road to 2016. It would transform the landscape. He’d win the Hispanic vote. Yes, win it. A problem fixable with a single policy initiative is not structural. It is solvable.
Would that it were so. Rubio is a gifted pol who will go far. I think he can play a constructive role in crafting a modified DREAM Act — something that’s overdue, both because amnestying illegal immigrants who’ve spent their whole childhoods here is prudent and merciful, and because voters like the DREAMers. But the idea that poor Mexican Americans and Dominican Americans and Puerto Rican Americans are going to vote en masse for a conservative white Cuban just because there’s a vowel at the end of his name is, uh, implausible.
The Left understands much better the point of mass immigration. See, for instance, the comments of Eliseo Medina, vice president of the SEIU and an honorary chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America: “[Immigrants] will solidify and expand the progressive coalition for the future. . . . We will create a governing coalition for the long term not just for an election cycle.”
Conservatives shouldn’t be helping them do this.
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