Immigration Debate Speeds Toward a Conclusion in the Senate

Harry Reid has scheduled a vote on the cloture motion on the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill for tomorrow morning. The vote on the bill’s passage may come as early as tomorrow afternoon. Today, senators debated the bill’s merits, somewhat in the institution’s grand tradition, I think.

One of the problems with the bill is that it will place an enormous strain on the nation’s welfare systems. Bob Melendez took the floor to deny that the newly-legalized illegals will be eligible for welfare benefits. This is what one of my favorite literary characters once called a “doughnut truth: the truth, the whole truth, with a hole in the truth.” The hole in this instance is wide enough to accommodate a semi-trailer truck. Representatives of the Senate Budget Committee pointed out that there are at least five ways in which currently illegal immigrants will access welfare benefits under the Gang’s plan:

1. Immediate access once legalized to state and local benefits (Senator Rubio’s office proposed offering an amendment on this but it never occurred). [Ed: This is key, obviously, since it is state and local governments, not Washington, that are mostly responsible for welfare.]

2. Immediate access once legalized to free earned income tax credits (an amendment to close this loophole was defeated in committee).

3. In 5 years, 2-3 million illegal immigrants will become green card holders and/or citizens and become eligible for all federal benefits, including welfare.

4. Illegal immigrants will draw benefits through legal members of their households.

5. Once granted permanent residency and citizenship many low-income illegal immigrants will become eligible for trillions in welfare benefits.

All of this is true, but it omits the biggest hole of all: if we bring in 30 million to 60 million new legal immigrants, above and beyond levels authorized by current law, and if 90% of those new legal immigrants are low-skill, low-wage workers, as will be the case under the Gang’s bill, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a lot of them, and their family members and descendants, will wind up on welfare. Even today, the Obama administration has teamed up with the government of Mexico to advertise the easy availability of generous American welfare benefits to Mexican citizens. As is so often the case, the Democrats are trying to deny the blindingly obvious.

Immigration is one of the issues on which I have an open mind. Our current system, designed largely by Ted Kennedy in the mid-1960s, is appallingly stupid. So in principle, I am wide open to the concept of immigration reform. It didn’t take me long, however, to figure out that the Gang’s bill is not the route to sensible reform; rather, it makes a bad system worse.

But not all of the proponents of the Gang’s proposal are Democratic politicians salivating over the prospect of millions more Democratic voters and a permanent government-dependent majority. I think it is clear that some Republicans, while in my view wrong on the issue, are proceeding out of heartfelt conviction and in good faith. Foremost among them is Marco Rubio, of whom I have been, for quite a while, an unabashed fan. Paul has been tough on Marco, along with many others, and I don’t intend to argue with the cogent points made by Paul and other critics. In my view, Rubio has an emotional commitment to the immigration issue that arises out of his own family’s history and has clouded his judgment, causing him to fall prey to the cynical calculations of Chuck Schumer and others.

Is that susceptibility an admirable quality in a legislator? Of course not. But Marco is a politician of rare talent and a genuine conservative, not a wolf in conservative’s clothing like quite a few others. So I hope that when the dust has settled on immigration, Rubio can remain a valuable member of the conservative movement, which he certainly has been until now. Earlier today, Marco wrote this letter to his conservative friends. I am taking the liberty of posting it in its entirety because I think it is sincere:

Dear Friends,

Over the last few days, I have received numerous emails and calls from conservatives and Tea Party activists from across the country regarding immigration. Their opinions really matter to me because they were with me three years ago when so many people here in Washington – and in Florida – thought I had no chance to win my election.

These people are patriots. They are everyday Americans from all walks of life who are deeply concerned about the direction our country is headed. And they are increasingly unhappy about the immigration reform proposal in the Senate.

It’s not because they are “anti-immigrant” as some on the left like to say. It’s not because they are close-minded. They believe, as I do, that as a sovereign country we have a right to secure our borders. That we have a right to have immigration laws and to enforce them. And they are increasingly opposed to this effort because, for over three decades and despite many promises to enforce the law, the federal government under both Republicans and Democrats has failed to do so.

In the end, it’s not just immigration reform itself that worries them, it’s the government that has failed them so many times before. They realize we have a legal immigration system that needs to be reformed. They realize we have over 11 million people currently living in the country illegally, and we have to deal with them. Yet they simply believe that no matter what law we pass, we cannot trust the federal government to ever actually enforce it.

This sentiment was best summed up for me in an email I received from Sharon Calvert, a prominent Tea Party leader in Tampa, Florida who wrote:

“Today, June 2013, we are in a very different political climate than we were even after the last election. We are in a political climate of distrust. Distrust of government and elected representatives is at its highest.”

She goes on to say, “Do we want to trust this administration to faithfully enforce a bill to the best interests of all Americans with a bill that few have read?”

She makes a powerful point.

After finding out that the IRS investigates people based on their political views, all the questions that remain about Benghazi, and seeing the Justice Department target reporters, trust in the federal government is rightfully at an all time low.

I share this skepticism about this administration and Washington in general. In just the two years I have been here, I have seen the games that are played and the promises that are broken, and how the American people suffer as a consequence. And this is exactly what led me to get involved in this issue in the first place.

We have a badly broken legal immigration system. Not only does it not work, it actually encourages illegal immigration.

We have a border with Mexico that, despite billions of dollars already spent, is still not secure. Every day, people, drugs and guns are trafficked across that border.

And we have 11 million people living in this country illegally in de facto amnesty.

This is the way things are now. This is the status quo. And it is a terrible mess. It is hurting our country terribly. And unless we do something about it, this administration is never going to fix it.

Political pundits love to focus on the politics of all this. But for me, this isn’t about catering to any group for political gain. Predictably, despite my work on immigration reform, so-called “pro-immigrant” groups protest me daily.

This isn’t about winning points from the establishment or the mainstream media either. No matter how consistent I have been in focusing on the border security aspects of reform, whenever I have spoken about the need to improve this part of the legislation, the beltway media has accused me of trying to undermine or walk away from the reform.

This isn’t about becoming a Washington dealmaker. Truthfully, it would have been far easier to just sit back, vote against any proposal and give speeches about how I would have done things differently.

And finally, this most certainly isn’t about gaining support for future office. Many conservative commentators and leaders who I deeply respect, and who I agree with on practically every other issue, are disappointed about my involvement in this debate.

I got involved in this issue for one simple reason: I ran for office to try and fix things that are hurting this special country of ours. And in the end, that is what this is about for me – trying to fix a serious problem that faces America.

The proposal before the Senate is by no means perfect. Like any proposal that comes before the Democrat-controlled Senate, it has flaws.

But it also has important reforms conservatives have been trying to get for years. It changes our legal immigration system from a predominantly family-based system of chain migration to a more merit-based system focused on job skills.

The proposal mandates the most ambitious border and interior security measures in our nation’s history. It requires and funds the completion of 700 miles of real border fence, adds 20,000 new border agents, details a specific technology plan for each sector of the border, requires E-Verify for every employer in America, and creates a tracking system to identify people who overstay their visas.

These are all things that, at a minimum, must happen before those in the country illegally can apply for permanent legal status.

And the proposal deals with those who are illegally here now in a reasonable but responsible way. Right now, those here illegally are living in de facto amnesty. They are unregistered, many pay no taxes, and few will ever pay any price for having violated our laws. Under this bill they will have to come forward, pass background checks, pay a fine, start paying taxes, and be ineligible for welfare, food stamps or ObamaCare.

In return, the only thing they get is a temporary work permit. And they can’t renew it in six years unless they can prove that they have been holding a job and paying taxes. For at least ten years, that is all they can have.

And after all that, they cannot even apply for permanent status until the fence is built, the border patrol agents are hired, and the border security technology, E-Verify and the tracking system are fully in place.

Despite all these measures, however, opposition from many conservatives has grown significantly in the last few weeks.

Why? Because they have heard that “the Secretary of Homeland Security can just ignore the border requirement.” But this is not true. The department does have discretion on where to build the fence, but not on the amount of fencing it must build. At the end of the day, 700 miles of pedestrian fencing must be built.

They’ve also heard that “the Secretary of Homeland Security can just waive the radars, drones, ground sensors and other technology required in the bill.” But that is not true. The Secretary can always add more to the plan, but the list of border security measures we mandate in the legislation is the minimum that must be implemented.

Some oppose it because they have heard that “a future Congress can just defund all the security measures.” But that is not true. The money is built into the bill. Unlike previous border security laws, it doesn’t leave it dependent on future funding.

They oppose the bill because they have heard that it creates a taxpayer subsidy for people “to buy a car or a scooter.” That is not true. Nothing in this bill allows that.

And they oppose the bill because they have heard that last Friday “a brand new 1,100 page bill that no one had read is now what is before the Senate.” That is not true.

This is the exact same bill that has been publicly available for ten weeks. The main additions to it are about 120 pages of border security requirements.

Because in order to add 700 miles of fence, 20,000 border agents and a prohibition on foreign students or tourists from getting ObamaCare, we had to add pages to the bill.

I understand why after reading these false claims, people would be opposed to the bill. I understand why, after we have been burned by large bills in the past, people are suspicious of big reforms of any kind.

And I understand why, after promises made in the past on immigration have not been kept, people doubt whether they will ever be kept in the future.

But I also understand what is going to happen if at some point we do not come to an agreement we can support on immigration reform. We will still have a broken legal immigration system. We won’t have more border patrol officers. We will still not have enough fencing. We will still not have mandatory E-Verify. And we will still have 11 million people here illegally.

And that is why I am involved in this. Because despite all the problems we have with our government, the only way to mandate a fence, E-Verify and more agents, is to pass a law that does so.

I knew getting these requirements into the bill would not be easy. This administration and their allies insist the border is already secure and have fought every effort to improve border security. This administration and their allies want the fastest and easiest path to citizenship possible, and have fought every condition and trigger in the bill.

I got involved because I knew that if conservatives didn’t get involved in shaping this proposal, it would not have any of the border security reforms our nation desperately needs.

Getting to this point has been very difficult. To hear the worry, anxiety and growing anger in the voices of so many people who helped me get elected to the Senate, who I agree with on virtually every other issue, has been a real trial for me. I know they love America, and they are deeply worried about the direction this administration and the political left are trying to take our country.

But when I was a candidate, I told you I wanted to come here and fight. Fight to protect what is good for America. And fight to stop what is bad for America.

I believe what we have now is hurting our country badly, and I wasn’t going to leave it to the Democrats alone to figure out how to fix it.

Perhaps at the heart of my support of this proposal is that I know firsthand that while immigrants have always impacted America, America changes immigrants even more. Just a generation ago, my parents lived in poverty in another country. But America changed them. It gave them a chance to improve their lives. It gave them the opportunity to open doors for me and my siblings that had been closed for them. And the longer they lived here, the older their kids got, the more conservative they became. The more convinced they became that limited government, free enterprise and our constitutional liberties made this nation special.

I am a witness to the transformative power of our country. How it doesn’t change people’s pocketbooks, it changes their hearts and minds.

And despite all of our challenges and despite our broken government, I believe this is still that kind of country.

I realize that in the end, many of my fellow conservatives will still not be able to support this reform. But I hope you will understand that I honestly believe it is the right thing for our country. To finally have an immigration system that works, to finally have a fence, more agents and E-Verify, and to finally put an end to de facto amnesty.

In my heart and in my mind, I know that we must solve this problem once and for all, or it will only get worse. It will only get harder to solve.

To my fellow conservatives, I will continue to fight alongside you for real tax reform, lowering the debt, balancing our budget, reducing regulations, rolling back job-killing environmental policies and repealing the disaster of ObamaCare. I will continue to fight for the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.

And I will continue to work in the hopes of one day uniting behind a common conservative strategy on how to fix our broken immigration system once and for all.


Marco Rubio

Did that convince me to support the Gang’s proposal? No. But it reminded me that the conservative movement should not be in the business of excommunication. There will be many battles to be fought, on many issues, in the months and years to come, and we need all hands on deck.