The Conversation

The road to amnesty is paved with discretionary waivers

I wasn't about to make some cheesy attempt to steal Marco Rubio's spotlight, so let this separate post stand as my expression of deep skepticism about the Gang of Eight immigration bill, especially now that it's been seasoned with that Corker-Hoeven pixie dust.  Whatever positive steps we might be taking toward border security, none of it's worth shoving a radically modified 1,200-page bill through the Senate in a blindfolded panic vote before the senators - and, perhaps more importantly, their constituents - have a chance to study it.

I expressed my doubts at length this morning, but let me zero in on my fundamental point of disagreement with Senator Rubio: I don't think any of the "triggers" and "surges" in this bill are going to work the way he thinks they will.  And that's really not just a critique of the Gang of Eight bill.  No "trigger" is ever going to oblige this titanic government to do something it really doesn't want to do.  That's especially true given the current Administration's penchant for abusing its authority, and this bill is positively riddled with clauses putting everything at the discretion of Administration officials.  There are almost as many waivers stuffed into the G8 immigration bill as there were in ObamaCare.

To be brutally honest, if this bill passes, it will swiftly cease to matter what Marco Rubio, or any other representative, thinks about border security and its relationship to legalization.  Everything will rest in the hands of a few high-powered bureaucrats, and if the Republicans make a big stink about their exercise of discretionary power, the result will be a big saloon brawl across the Sunday talk shows and op-ed pages, not a meaningful halt to the amnesty process.  

Every step of this immigration reform process - which has been controlled at least as much by Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama as Marco Rubio - is designed to inflict political damage on Republicans.  If the House refuses to bring it to a vote, votes it down, or even makes significant alterations, they'll be savaged as xenophobes.  If they pass it, they'll be buying a ticket to politically disadvantageous arguments about whether the "triggers" have been met, at the height of election season.  

Not one illegal alien family will ever be deported because they failed to pay a fine, refused to cough up back taxes, or could not demonstrate English proficiency.  The Administration will exercise its vast discretionary powers to prevent it, and if congressional Republicans cry foul... well, they won't, and let's stop pretending otherwise.  Their top political priority is using immigration reform as the doorbuster prize to bring Hispanic voters into the big electoral sale at the GOP's retail vote outlet.  Aside from a few persistent gadflies, they're not going to scuttle that effort by insisting on any halt to the legalization process because triggers haven't been met.  And those gadflies will be told to shut the hell up by the Party establishment.  If they don't, they'll be attacked with a vigor the Establishment rarely demonstrates against Democrats.

Washington simply does not work the way Senator Rubio seems to assume it does.  Isn't his own personal experience working on this bill proof of that?  I agree with the ideals he expressed, but I don't see why we shouldn't fulfill those ideals by finally providing the border security Congress has been promising - indeed, legislating - for decades, both internal and external.  Once a few years of attrition have reduced the illegal population, we could talk about legalization for the remainder, and it won't involve the kind of economic disruption or security risks the current effort entails.  Let's stop talking about triggers, and start talking about results.

Update: Pursuant to the above point about the political realities of the situation, I see that Senator Rubio's Gang of Eight partner, Senator Schumer, is openly threatening "massive demonstrations" and "political punishment" for Republicans if they don't pass immigration reform immediately, and the whole thing has the "potential of becoming the next civil-rights movement."  Don't take it from me, Senator Rubio; just listen to what the Gang of Eight's boss is saying.


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