GOP Is the ‘Mark’ in Immigration Reform Game

REUTERS/Jason Redmond
REUTERS/Jason Redmond
Washington, DC

There is an old warning in con games: If you don’t know who the “mark” is…you’re the “mark.” The national GOP, against the wishes of its own voting base, is set to blow all its political chips on a sucker’s bet for politics over policy. When a party allows its positions to be dictated by its opponents, it deserves whatever calamity befalls it.

To appreciate the terrible political position the Republicans have made for themselves, consider a thought experiment: What kind of bargain do you think you would get if you walked into a car dealership and announced you absolutely had to buy a car today or you won’t be able to get to work tomorrow and will lose your job? How would your salary negotiations go if you told a prospective employer that your personal wellbeing depended on securing the job on offer?

In either case, one might charitably say you are at a negotiating disadvantage. A less favorable wag might conclude that you’ve set yourself up to be fleeced.

Yet this is exactly the position the national GOP has created for itself on immigration reform.

Over the past two years, almost no national leader of the Republican party has been able to pass a media microphone without declaring an absolute intention to pass immigration reform. The party’s “strategists” regularly aver to anyone who will listen that the party won’t be able to compete in the future unless it supports “immigration reform.”

The basic problem with this approach is that they are signaling support of an end result, not outlining the policy means that ought to get us there. That allows their opposition to dictate what “reform” is, and negotiations proceed from the left’s desired policy vision. As a result, the left will give up just enough to get that additional Republican vote.

The Republicans, led by lobbyists for the US Chamber of Commerce and industries that rely on low-wage labor, have this calculus exactly backward and so are negotiating from a position of abject weakness.

The immigration system is in dire need of reform. It is a system that could only arise within an ossified federal bureaucracy beset by a mix of conflicting signals and benign neglect over decades from Congress. On a strictly actuarial basis, we need new immigrants to buttress long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. That is a basic math equation.

Beyond even that, though, our system makes no sense. It is generally family-based, rather than skills-based. Hopeful immigrants with Phds have almost no chance of moving to the US unless they already have family here, for example.

Even having family in the US, though, doesn’t provide a clear and rational path for immigration. This process is dictated by confusing equations based on past migrations and historical trends. Someone in the Philippines, whose brother is a US citizen, faces a 25-30 year wait to emigrate to the US. This doesn’t make sense.

So, yes, we need to reform the immigration system. Republicans, though, have simply waved away any substantive discussion of immigration policy and simply demand that, for the good of their party, everyone accept whatever policies President Obama, the left or the media define as “reform.”

Republicans tell us we must simply buy the car, regardless of its performance or the terms of its financing. “Don’t you want us to have a job,” they answer if we ask questions about compensation or benefits or specific job duties.

If one questions the 1,000+ page monstrosity produced by the US Senate, we are “anti-immigrant,” “nativists,” or worse. Republican Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio authored legislation that would reduce Congress to a consulting role on the nation’s immigration policy. Their legislation contains around 1,000 policy waivers, allowing federal bureaucrats to effectively ignore provisions set by lawmakers.

So, yes, McCain and Rubio’s legislation takes steps to secure the border. Unless, of course, federal agencies decide they can’t comply with that directive, in which case they can simply waive the security requirements. Naturally, the provisions that speed a path to legal residency and eventual citizenship don’t have waivers.

This is simply what happens when you broadcast your weakness ahead of negotiations. President Obama can issue Executive Actions on immigration for the simple reason that Republicans have already announced they won’t act to counter these actions. Whatever else happens on immigration next year will also be the result of Republican posturing on the issue.

Republicans will be fleeced on the issue, but the rest of us will be left paying the tab.