Let’s not make an immigration deal

Our friend Ed Morrissey adds his voice to those urging Republicans to “cut a deal on immigration.” He makes both a policy argument and a political one.

Ed’s policy argument is that the nation shouldn’t go four more years without reforming its broken immigration system:

[T]he issue of border security has been left in limbo for more than 11 years after 9/11, and more than seven years after the 9/11 Commission rightly demanded better security on both borders, and the broken visa program that offers no follow-up on expired entries. If we continue to punt rather than compromise, we will be left waiting for at least four more years to get any kind of solution.

By focusing first on policy, Ed adds to the debate, which, in conservative circles, has focused almost solely on the politics of immigration reform. However, I doubt that improving border security in relation to terrorists requires Republicans to buy Chuck Schumer’s immigration reform agenda, including a path to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens (and future Democratic voters).

The Democrats cannot risk a terrorist attack that is traced back to a lapse in border security on their watch. Such an attack might well derail President Obama’s second term and adversely affect his legacy. Obama, therefore, is unlikely to tolerate a heightened risk of an attack caused by poor border security.

Accordingly, if the current system is so flawed as to create an undue national security risk, Republicans hold a winning hand. The key for them is to flag this issue big-time by holding hearings in the House and, if necessary, by passing a House bill fixing just this aspect of the immigration system.

Right now, Democrats are convinced that the Republicans will cave on immigration reform, and with good reason. Indeed, they have long understood that strong elements within the Republican Party want to cave; this was clear during the Bush administration’s attempt at immigration reform. If Republicans can demonstrate that they won’t cave, Democrats will be unlikely to accept a heightened risk of a terrorist attack just to prove a point.

As to the political dimension, Ed argues:

[C]ontinued obstruction means that immigration reform will continue to hang around the GOP’s neck like an albatross. Hard-liners argue that a Republican compromise won’t convince Latinos to shift to the Republican Party, and they’re correct in the short run. However, it’s difficult to make the kind of free-market and family values pitches that might make some serious inroads with Latino voters when Republican candidates and activists talk about deportations — self-initiated or otherwise — of family, friends, and others within their communities. That conversation has lasted far too long, and it has caused significant damage.

But Republicans don’t need to talk about deportation. There are middle ground positions between deporting illegal immigrants and providing them with a path to citizenship. To be sure, the Democrats won’t accept anything short of the citizenship path. Thus, meaningful compromise is impossible.

Under these circumstances, Democrats will continue to have a significant upper hand in the quest for the Hispanic vote. But they will have one anyway, even if Republicans capitulate on citizenship.

However, by proposing a middle ground position, Republicans won’t be talking about deportations. If, as Ed says, it is this talk that’s standing in the way of a greater Hispanic embrace of Republican “free-market and family value pitches,” the problem can be solved without capitulating to the Democrats, as Republican leaders now seem quite inclined to do.

JOHN adds: I think the immigration system should be reformed in a number of ways, so that it will better serve the interests of the United States. We should be encouraging and promoting the immigration of skilled workers from other countries, and we should not be accepting, let alone encouraging, immigration of unskilled workers, with only rare exceptions. The forgotten man in this story is the American citizen who does unskilled and semi-skilled work, and whose wages have been beaten down for many years by competition from unskilled immigrants, especially illegals. Republicans should be on the side of those unskilled and semi-skilled Americans, about whose welfare the Democrats hypocritically pretend to be concerned, not on the side of the Chamber of Commerce types who want cheap labor, and least of all on the side of non-American citizens who came here illegally.

Consistent with that approach, we should be enforcing our existing laws to protect American citizens against inherently unfair competition from illegals. It would be perverse, I think, to facilitate such competition by granting citizenship or even amnesty to existing illegals.

Where, exactly, does the clamor for “comprehensive immigration reform” come from? I don’t see any existing problems that would be solved, as a matter of policy, by “comprehensive immigration reform,” as opposed to more effective law enforcement, e.g. at the borders. The real motivation on both sides seems to be political: Democrats want to add millions of loyal Democratic voters, and Republicans are afraid that opposing “comprehensive reform” will cause them to lose votes with Mexican-Americans and others who are already citizens. Both sides cannot be right in their political calculations, and when it comes to political calculation, it is generally a good bet that the Democrats are the ones who have it figured out. In my opinion, the idea that the illegals who would become voters by virtue of “comprehensive reform” are Republicans in training is delusional.

So, yes, Republicans should propose immigration reforms: 1) make it easy for skilled workers to come here from every corner of the world; 2) make it difficult or impossible for unskilled workers to come here legally; and 3) tighten up border security and law enforcement. These policies will help lower-income Americans more than just about anything the federal government can do. There will still be a considerable number of illegals here for the foreseeable future, but so what? There is no need to talk about deportation, or anything else.