Jeb Bush and amnesty lite

Jeb Bush has come up with a compromise approach to immigration reform. Under his proposal, illegal immigrants would receive amnesty in the sense of permanent status — work cards, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, and so forth — but not a path to citizenship. Citizenship would only be available if they left the U.S. and applied from their home country, a course of action few would be likely to take.

Bush would also try to secure the border. However, as I understand it, a certification of “success” in this endeavor would not be a prerequisite for the amnesty.

In theory, amnesty but no path to citizenship is a sensible compromise. We aren’t going to deport many illegal aliens under any regime; nor do I believe that mass deportation would, on balance, be a desirable policy. For me, the deal breaker on immigration reform is not amnesty per se, but rather rewarding illegal aliens with United States citizenship.

But Mark Krikorian argues that Bush’s compromise is a ruse that will pave the way for an eventual grant of citizenship:

Once the illegal population is legalized, the game is over — the amnesty will obviously never be revoked, and the Democrats will then launch a campaign against Republicans accusing them (correctly) of imposing on helpless Latinos a Jim Crow–style system of second-class status, something more appropriate to Saudi Arabia. If they go this way, the GOP candidate in 2016 will look back fondly on Romney’s 27 percent of the Hispanic vote — and he’ll have sabotaged his own base as well, resulting in an even further drop in blue-collar white turnout and Republican share.

I agree that Bush probably is trying to pull a fast one. He has long backed a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. So why the change, just as momentum is building for such a path? Bush supplied part of the answer when he told Charlie Rose that he wrote the book last year (i.e., before the momentum began to build). However, Bush continues to offer his compromise because, I suspect, he has an eye on the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. Most likely, his true preference remains a path to citizenship for illegals, but he understands that this is a unacceptable to most Republicans.

On the merits, Krikorian is also correct that it would be quite difficult to hold the line at “amnesty lite.” But it is already proving difficult to resist legislation that would provide illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship.

Depending on the exact lay of the legislative land, it might make sense to accept a compromise that, for now, denies the path to citizenship. Who knows? Republicans may one day behave like a serious political party — one that rewards the people who vote for it, not those who vote against it — rather than like masochists.

As for Bush’s proposal to proceed with amnesty before the border is certified as secure, it doesn’t bother me that much. The certification process will likely be a sham, in all events. And to the extent that there’s any progress in border security in the run-up to certification, that progress will always be subject to reversal.

Finally, as I understand it, the illegal immigrants to whom Bush would deny a path to citizenship are those who entered the U.S. illegally as adults and who choose to remain in the U.S. rather than return to their native countries to go through the lawful immigration process. Those who accompanied them as children would have path to citizenship. This represents a huge reward — on top of amnesty — for the adults who entered illegally. In my view, it is problematic.


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