Why Did the Senate's Amnesty/Immigration-Surge Bill Fail?

Today is the one-year anniversary of Senate passage of S.744, the Schumer-Rubio bill that would have doubled legal immigration and guest workers, legalized the bulk of the illegal-alien population, and promised better enforcement in the future. Now that even Representative Luis Gutierrez, the loudest cheerleader in the House for "comprehensive immigration reform," has admitted that the push for amnesty and increased immigration is dead — at least for now — it's worth considering why it died.

Corporate lobbyists seeking cheap labor spent $1.5 billion since the collapse of Bush's amnesty/immigration bill in 2007 to revive it. The left-right coalition funded by that money is quite wide, including the Catholic hierarchy, Evangelical luminaries (Russell Moore, e.g.), business groups (U.S. Chamber of Commerce), law enforcement groups (the Ford Foundation's Police Executive Research Forum), ethnic pressure groups (La Raza), leftist groups (Center for American Progress), the media (New York Times, Wall Street Journal), and assorted billionaires (Murdoch, Bloomberg, Zuckerberg, Gates). So how could it have failed?

The trust gap. The public's lack of trust in the political class, though well-earned, is debilitating. The trust gap affects a wide variety of issues, but none more so than immigration. S.744, specifically, assumes that the executive will faithfully check the backgrounds of amnesty applicants, rigorously apply the standards for amnesty (and reject those who fall short), ensure that the bill's restrictions on welfare use are honored, stand up to corporate lobbyists objecting to new enforcement requirements, disburse funds to outside groups even-handedly, etc.

Does anyone trust Obama to do any of that?

But the problem goes far beyond Obama, which is why Chuck Schumer's suggestion that Republicans pass the bill but delay its implementation until a new president takes office is so laughable. The last time we did "comprehensive immigration reform," in 1986, the promise to the public was that Washington would tie up the loose ends of past policy errors by amnestying squatters who had been here long enough to have established themselves, but only because immigration laws in the future would be strictly enforced, preventing a replay of mass illegal immigration. As Popeye's friend Wimpy might have said, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for an amnesty today."

It wasn't Obama who welshed on that deal.

In all the astonishingly dishonest polling done on this issue, no reporter or politician has thought to ask if people believe all the promises made by amnesty-pushers. So CIS did: "If the government did give legal status to illegal immigrants in the country and promised immigration laws would be enforced, how confident are you that laws would be enforced?" By a margin of 70-27 the public had little or no confidence that promises of future enforcement would be honored, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents, whites and blacks. Even 47 percent of self-identified liberals didn't trust Obama's and Schumer's promises. And this poll was taken early last year, before the Obamacare rollout, VA, IRS, etc.

And this is more than the simple expectation that politicians lie. As the late Samuel Huntington pointed out, we have a patriotic public but a post-national elite, a divide that reveals itself perhaps most starkly on immigration. Our rulers — not just on the left but also on the corporate and libertarian right — don't see themselves as having any greater loyalty to America or the American people than to anyone else. They are, emotionally at least, post-American.

This disconnect between elites and the public also fuels resistance to the legal-immigration provisions of the Senate bill. People rightly assumed that promises to enforce the border in the future were lies but at least politicians were saying the right things. On legal immigration, S.744 didn't even pretend to care about Americans, with its doubling of legal immigration and guest-worker admissions, despite wide public opposition to such increases. As today's piece at National Review Online by CIS Director of Research Steve Camarota asks, "Why double immigration when so many people already aren't working?"

This deep distrust is what fueled Dave Brat's shocking defeat of Eric Cantor. It has crippled — and will continue to cripple — efforts to set our immigration policy on a steadier and less contentious course. Until our elites demonstrate that they actually want to control immigration, and that the well-being of American workers is their chief concern, the stalemate is likely to continue.