Ben Carson sketches plan for dealing with illegal immigrants

During an appearance of Face the Nation, Dr. Ben Carson took a stab today at outlining how he would deal with the issue of illegal immigration. After criticizing Donald Trump’s concept of deporting every illegal immigrant (and then readmitting “the good ones”), Carson said this:

[L]et’s say we get [the borders] sealed, because certainly in a Carson administration that would be done within the first year. You also turn off the spigot that dispenses the goodies, so that people don’t have any incentive to come here.

Then those who are here, we have to recognize that we can’t just round them up, but we can give them an opportunity to register. I would give them a six-month period.

If they register, and if they have a pristine record, they haven’t been causing problems, I would give them an opportunity to become guest workers — not citizens, not voting people, not people who get goodies. I think that would be a fair way to do it.

In terms of them becoming citizens later on down the road if they’ve done things the right way, we the American people will decide what the criteria for that ought to be.

Most of the commentary I’ve seen about Carson’s statement has focused on the guest worker idea. I’ll get to it in a moment.

My biggest concern, though, is with Carson’s proposal eventually to establish criteria for illegal immigrants becoming “citizens. . .down the road if they’ve done things the right way.” By definition, those who are here illegally have not “done things the right way.” They should be barred from becoming U.S. citizens.

As for a guest worker program, I’d like to hear the advantages of such a system over the status quo which, in a sense, is an informal guest worker program for illegal immigrants who keep their noses clean (and many who don’t). Carson suggests one — “registration” of illegal immigrants. But how many would register?

The disadvantages of a guest worker program have been described by Mark Krikorian and Ian Tuttle. It tends to result in permanent settlement and to depress wages.

Carson insists that under his plan, guest workers wouldn’t be permitted to “get goodies.” As Tuttle points out, however, there are a number of “goodies” that are all but impossible to cut off. Many illegal immigrant households receive welfare benefits through American-born children. There is no realistic way to withhold those entitlements.

Somehow, a presumption has arisen that we need to do something for the illegal immigrants living in this country. “Something” might be a guest worker program, full-fledged amnesty, a path to citizenship, or (in Trump’s case) deportation and readmission (in many cases) with legal status.

This presumption is, I think, a symptom of belief in big government and government-imposed solutions. A less (but plenty) ambitious idea is simply to keep illegals out and to deport those who run afoul of the law in any respect.

Finally, what are the politics of the proposal Dr. Carson sketched? Tuttle suggests that because Republican primary voters seem to want a hard line, it’s far from clear that Carson’s plan can be sold at the present time.

Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform have long insisted that the idea of legalizing most illegal immigrants under certain conditions has substantial, and even majority, support among Republicans. Certain poll results notwithstanding, I have never believed this. But neither do I deny that a great many Republicans are sympathetic to “doing something” for illegal immigrants who abide by our laws (except the ones that apply to immigration.

The problem for Carson may be that he likely is not the first or second choice of this portion of the Republican party. He’s competing for votes, I take it, with hardliners like Donald Trump, not with, say, Jeb Bush.

For this reason, Carson’s statement on Face the Nation might prove politically problematic.

In any event, the major candidates are staking out divergent positions on immigration. It should make for an interesting next debate.

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