Why the Immigration Bill Can’t Be Fixed

Paul has written about efforts to “fix” the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill by both the left and the right. In my view, the bill is flawed at its core, in multiple ways, and efforts to improve it are misguided. It cannot serve as a template for workable legislation. Here is why:

1. No bill that contains the word “comprehensive” in its title should be enacted. Sound legislation can be read and understood by a person of good intelligence. The 844-page “comprehensive immigration reform act” cannot be read and understood by anyone. Its advocates and detractors argue over what the bill does or does not say, and what it does or does not mean. It is difficult if not impossible to resolve these disputes by the simple expedient of reading the bill. The bill, therefore, should fail.

2. The bill does nothing about the central problem in our immigration system. America’s most vital immigration issue relates to legal, not illegal, immigration. That is the insane policy of “chain immigration” that has been the law for several decades now. Chain immigration means that once a person is a legal resident in the U.S., he can bring over his family members. And they can bring over their family members, ad infinitum. Chain immigration operates with no regard to the needs or interests of the American people. Among other things, it holds out the prospect that the entire city of Mogadishu may someday be imported into the U.S. The only current restraint on chain immigration is the overall caps in new immigrants, but those caps will not apply to the many millions of Mexicans and others who will be legalized by the Gang’s proposal. Which means that the bill not only fails to address, but grossly aggravates the main existing problem in our immigration system.

3. “Triggers” are worthless. The legislation purports to define “triggers” that control whether certain events do or do not take place five or ten years in the future. The problem with this approach lies not in specific, technical defects in the definitions of the triggers, which theoretically might be fixable. Rather, the problem is that the entire concept is bogus. Can anyone name a statute in which such far-off triggers have been employed successfully? I can’t. The reality is that today’s Congress can’t dictate what will or will not happen in five or ten years, no matter how artfully it tries. The point is much the same as we see every year when ten-year budgets are proposed. The Democrats tell us, our budget cuts spending by six trillion dollars–starting in year eight! Right. But year eight never comes. Does anyone ever go back to ten-year-old budgets to see what they promised about today’s spending? No.

4. The bill puts vast discretion in the hands of Janet Napolitano and people like her. The modern trend in legislation is for Congress to decide little of substance, but rather to set up an agency or commission to make findings, promulgate rules and essentially legislate within its sphere. Such agencies inevitably promulgate liberal rules, so this system works well for Democrats, not so well for Republicans. Why on Earth would Republicans agree to repose vast, unfettered discretion in the likes of Janet Napolitano, who have already publicly announced that they only intend to enforce the portions of federal law with which they agree?

And, finally, a point that is of a somewhat different order from the preceding:

5. Border security is irrelevant. The main way in which many conservatives are trying to “improve” the Gang’s bill is by beefing up border security by requiring a fence, and so on. This would do virtually no good. First, the influx that will result from the Gang’s plan without bringing in any new illegals–30 million or more–would devastate the existing American working class and put an intolerable strain on our welfare system. It would bring about profound demographic change and would ensure Democratic majorities for the foreseeable future. Securing the border now would be closing the barn door when the cows are long gone.

Moreover, it wouldn’t work. The real issue is interior enforcement, not what happens at the border. As is constantly pointed out, something like 40% of all illegals arrive legally but overstay their visas. Nothing we do to secure the border will have any impact on this group. It would be relatively easy to bring illegal immigration to a screeching halt; all we need to do is enforce existing laws against employers that hire illegals. If 100 or 200 people went to prison for hiring illegals, the jobs would dry up and so would the illegals. But we lack the political will to do that. On the contrary, most of our large cities have declared themselves “sanctuaries” where immigration laws are not enforced, and the Obama administration has arrogantly thumbed its nose at existing laws. Those are the factors that must change. Until they do, it is a fantasy to think that border fences will make any material difference.

So conservatives should forget about trying to fix the Gang of Eight’s bill, and instead drive a stake through its heart. Conservatives should propose one, and only one, reform: an end to chain immigration, as part of a recalibration of our immigration law that would seek to serve the interests of existing American citizens, and no one else. Once such a law has been passed, signed and successfully implemented, it will be time to consider whether any further reforms are appropriate. If conservatives seriously consider any further measures, they should be addressed one issue at a time, in bills no more than five to ten pages long that create no new agencies and delegate no new authority to unelected bureaucrats.

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