Despite many politicians and powerful interests pushing to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, that open-borders endgame remains a political third rail, incinerating the careers of those who touch it.
The sixth year of George W. Bush’s presidency was derailed by amnesty, as was Barack Obama’s fifth year. Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor’s once-promising career was incinerated by the amnesty third rail. Amnesty was a factor in the Democrat’s loss of the Senate in 2014 and may well be the reason they can’t get it back in 2016.
The rise of Donald Trump was fueled by public disgust with lax enforcement of citizenship laws and weak border security—a pushback against de facto amnesty. The Gang of Eight amnesty bill is seriously injuring Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential run, and ironically, doubts about his sincerity in opposing that bill with “poison pill” amendments haunted Rubio’s rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, after the two clashed in the most recent Republican primary debate. That third rail has a lot of voltage coursing through it.
Another presidential contender, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, has been loud and proud in favor of amnesty—and he’s going nowhere. When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal hammered Bush on amnesty, he faced questions about exactly how his proposals for dealing with illegal aliens were different. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had to re-invent himself as an anti-amnesty populist, and it still wasn’t good enough to keep him in the race.
Both Republican voters and the general electorate are all over the map on immigration, as perhaps befits such a complex issue. But the one thing they seem to consistently agree upon is opposition to anything that reeks of blanket amnesty for illegal aliens, especially when it’s granted by administrative or bureaucratic fiat. Vast amounts of spending by lobbyists and pressure from the media have proven unable to shake this resistance.
And yet, immigration is given sacramental treatment by our political culture—it’s a morally-charged issue that we are constantly told “defines” America like nothing else. There is very little the Ruling Class will denounce as “un-American” more quickly than opposition to massive levels of immigration, from anywhere and everywhere. (The Left side of the Ruling Class is only slightly slower to portray resistance to tax increases, and opposition to Democrat presidents, as unpatriotic.)
“We are a nation of immigrants!” politicians thunder in unison, on a fairly broad bipartisan basis. Sharp restrictions on immigration, either in general or for specific groups, are denounced as “not who we are.” Even those who express concerns about illegal border crossing tend to reflexively favor very high levels of high-skilled immigration. They call for foreign students to come with a green card, despite overwhelming evidence that such policies are hurting American professionals and blue-collar workers. Proponents of importing cheap skilled labor would be savaged as classic examples of rich special interests screwing over working Americans for a quick buck in nearly any other context.
Why should any society be “defined” by its eagerness to admit people from the outside? It’s an especially curious choice of sacrament, given how steadfastly the Left insists America is a hotbed of intolerance, cruelty, exploitation, and environmental destruction. America sucks, so let’s wave everybody in!
For some, that isn’t really a contradictory stance—they believe “American culture” is corrupt and inferior to all others and forcibly changing the nation’s demographics can only improve matters. It’s more refreshing to listen to those who say the borders should be open so people from awful places can enter a great nation in search of opportunity, although they recoil from discussing the logistics of bringing everyone aboard. They cannot articulate any reason Americans should be obliged to fix other countries by absorbing their surplus population, beyond vaguely gesturing at the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.
We really are a very immigrant-friendly nation. Even those Americans who believe the borders should be tightened generally call for partial or temporary reductions in the granting of citizenship, not shutting and locking the national gates. Immigrant success stories are a joyous staple of our popular culture, including what should, at this point, be recognized as one of the national legends that defines American culture: The story of Superman. It’s great to be part of a country everyone wants to live in. It is irrefutable, empirical evidence that the most cynical members of our political and academic elite are wrong in their sour judgment of the United States. (Alas, it is true that not everyone who wants to live in the United States is interested in becoming an American, but that’s one of those situations we should be able to address logically.)
There is, however, a sense among much of the public that we should slow down the immigration process a little, at least for a while. We need some time, a pause, for economic and cultural assimilation, and of course security. There’s nothing xenophobic or hateful about that rational conclusion—and if it’s wrong, it should be rationally debated, not “resolved” by intimidating citizens into silence.
And we really are still serious about the rule of law, judging by that third rail of amnesty. Powerful interests demand it, angry activists denounce everyone who opposes it as a bigot, and politicians claim it’s the only possible “solution” to the problem of illegal immigration, with all other measures either unworkable or unthinkable, but the American people aren’t buying it. They understand that abandoning the rule of law leads, not to generosity or “social justice,” but to chaos.
Government is supposed to shield the common man from chaos, not to engineer chaos for the benefit of elites.