Border security is the only basis for Republican unity. Republicans are divided on all other particulars–path to citizenship, guest worker program, deportation, anchor babies, etc. As I’ve argued before, Republican strategy in the House should be to say “no” on issues where there is consensus, and “no, unless” on issues where there is not. In this case, the House should reject any reform unless it puts border security first.
Law enforcement is the only true bipartisan policy. Conservative Republicans have something in common with unions: a common enthusiasm for enforcing immigration law against employers, particularly through the use of e-verify databases for new hires. In addition, working-class voters are less than enthusiastic about legalizing immigrants who would create instant competition in non-farm sectors of the low-skills labor market.
We have tried amnesty before, and it failed. The reason we have some 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States is that a 1986 amnesty enacted by the Reagan administration failed to improve law enforcement (thanks in part to liberal interest groups) and merely created new incentives for illegal immigration. Enforcement is to amnesty as spending cuts are to tax hikes; unless they come first, they do not happen.
Democrats do not want to “resolve” illegal immigration. If they did, it would have been done already. They do want to pass big legislation: back in 2006-7, Democrat strategist (and ex-con) Robert Creamer prescribed immigration reform as the second step in a series of radical changes (after health care). Yet as Daniel Horowitz writes at RedState, Democrats need new immigration-related grievances to fuel their outrage.
Barack Obama began his community organizing career with a radical immigrants’ group. One of Obama’s first organizing assignments in Chicago was with an Alinkyite group called UNO, the “Mexican-American ACORN.” As Stanley Kurtz has exposed, “Obama personally helped plan” some of the group’s most thuggish activities. He has used this issue his entire career to divide Americans and intimidate political opponents.
Regardless of what passes, Obama will take–and receive–credit. Voters will not remember that Obama blocked immigration reform in the Senate, or that he failed to introduce new legislation in his first term, breaking a solemn campaign promise. They will simply remember that they voted for him in 2012 and he signed immigration reform afterwards. Republicans will continue to average 30% of the Hispanic vote regardless.
Regardless of what passes, Republicans will still be labeled bigots. The president has already attempted to delegitimize opposition to immigration reform as motivated by racism; he will likely do so again. He will do so more often, not less, if Republicans give up their insistence on border security first, because then there will seem to be no other basis for opposition to immigration reform. The media will support him enthusiastically.
Immigration is neither the sole Hispanic issue, nor solely a Hispanic issue. Issues such as education and economic opportunity also top the agenda for Hispanic voters. In addition, as Tony Lee has pointed out, Asian immigrants are the fastest-growing group, even outpacing Hispanics in California. Republicans perform equally poorly among Asian-American voters–not because of immigration but likely because of other issues.
The Obama administration has little interest in law enforcement. Last year, the president used executive action to create a “Dream Act” by fiat, circumventing Congress and creating new incentives for illegal immigration. The administration has also done little over the past four years to patrol the borders beyond perfunctory gestures, and strenuously opposed efforts by the state of Arizona to take matters into its own hands.
Immigration does need to be reformed–for skilled immigrants. The area in which U.S. immigration policy is most lacking concerns skilled immigrants, who are choosing other destinations. The Obama administration has not made it easier for skilled students to stay in the country when finished their degree, nor has it removed the cap on H1-B visas. The Democrats’ primary concern is not the economy, nor justice, but new votes.