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NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Immigration



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My recent conversation with Business Insider’s Josh Barro on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s future political prospects was well-timed — Jindal has just published an op-ed on immigration reform here at NRO that reflects his desire to raise his national profile.

And though I share many of his misgivings about the Senate immigration bill, I find many aspects of his op-ed rather strange. For example, Jindal calls for securing the border before we regularize the status of unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the U.S. Only when the border is secure — that is, only when Congress and border state governors formally verify that the border is secure — will we regularize the status of unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the U.S. by granting them guest worker status. Rather than bar unauthorized immigrants from citizenship, he recommends that those who’ve registered as guest workers “gain proficiency in English, pay a fine, and demonstrate a willingness to assimilate” and work and pay taxes for a “substantial period of time” be allowed to apply for citizenship. On regularization, Jindal’s position appears to be indisinguishable from that of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the leading Republican champion of the Senate immigration bill. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that Jindal refers to “guest workers” and not to “registered provisional immigrants.” And finally, Jindal calls for a dramatic increase in less-skilled immigration:

Increase legal immigration, by a lot. Letting folks into our country who want to work, get an education, and improve their lives is good for them and good for us. We should increase legal immigration not only for unskilled laborers, but also for skilled workers from all over the world. We need to stop educating the world’s best and brightest engineers and scientists and then upon graduation kick them out of the country so they can compete with us and create growth and wealth in other countries. [Emphasis added]

The Senate immigration bill, per the Congressional Budget Office, increases legal immigration “by a lot.” So does Jindal believe that it doesn’t increase immigration enough? One possibility is that he believes it does not allow for enough skilled workers, which is fair enough — I’m inclined to agree. But does he also believe that it doesn’t allow for enough less-skilled workers? Jindal isn’t clear on this point. 

The critics will also say that conservative Republicans, even once the border is secured, will still oppose a pathway for turning illegal immigrants who are already here into legal immigrants. I disagree. Sure, some small minority may take that view, but the vast majority will not. I believe that virtually all Americans will gladly embrace and deal compassionately with those currently here illegally . . . once they are assured that our borders are secure.The critics will also say that conservative Republicans, even once the border is secured, will still oppose a pathway for turning illegal immigrants who are already here into legal immigrants. I disagree. Sure, some small minority may take that view, but the vast majority will not. I believe that virtually all Americans will gladly embrace and deal compassionately with those currently here illegally . . . once they are assured that our borders are secure.

The main problem with immigration enforcement rests not at the border, but rather with visa overstayers, i.e., with individuals who arrive in the country legally, yet who choose to overstay their visas to pursue employment opportunities, etc. I assume that Jindal is positing that we must first find a solution to this problem before we certify that the border is secure, which is fair enough. I’d be curious to know how he intends to address this thorny problem. But then Jindal fails to address why conservatives ought to embrace not just a path to legalization but a path to citizenship. Is he suggesting that conservatives who believe that a path to citizenship implicitly rewards unauthorized immigrants are not sufficiently compassionate? And does he believe that this is only the view of a small minority? Jindal doesn’t bother to make the case that unauthorized immigrants ought to be granted legal status. Rather, he seems to assert that almost everyone, conservatives included, already agree with him. 

Granted, the survey data seems to bolster Jindal’s case:

A Gallup poll conducted June 15-16 found that 86% of Republicans – the same percentage as that of Democrats, said they would back legislation allowing immigrants living illegally in the U.S. to become citizens after a long waiting period if they paid taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check, and learned English. The New York Times [i.e., Micah Cohen] noted that polls that describe the many requirements an unauthorized immigrant would have to satisfy before gaining citizenship find higher GOP support than polls that do not mention the requirements in detail, or at all. [Emphasis added]

But what happens if this position is contrasted with a path to normalization without citizenship?

Micah Cohen writes the following in the post cited by Pew:

Republican support nearly doubles, on average, in polls that specify the citizenship requirements compared with those that do not.

In surveys that do not specify more than one requirement, just 37 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship. (Most polls have released partisan breakdowns, but those that have not are not included in the average.) In contrast, 72 percent of G.O.P. respondents favored citizenship in polls that laid out the obstacles immigrants here illegally would have to navigate. In other words, Republican support increased by an average of 35 percent.

That is, before the deck is rhetorically stacked, a large majority of self-identified Republicans oppose a path to citizenship. What would happen to the survey results if the polling question also explained that the various obstacles most commonly invoked — paying back taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check, and learned English — are problematic for the following reasons: (a) as the Migration Policy Institute reports, the unauthorized population is extremely poor, and so back taxes would likely be negligible; (b) immigrants who fail to pass a criminal background check would presumably not be granted “registered provisional immigrant” or “guest worker” status, and characterizing a decision not to commit a felon as an “obstacle” seems somewhat eccentric; and (c) creating an immigration enforcement apparatus designed to assess English language proficiency will be an expensive process, and it is unlikely that immigration enforcement authorities will deport large numbers of immigrants on the grounds that they didn’t get a sufficiently high TOEFL score. 

Or leave aside an assessment of the obstacles. Might the numbers on a path to citizenship change if survey respondents were simply told the poverty and near-poverty rates among unauthorized immigrants? Note that I favor regularizing unauthorized immigrants. But I find Jindal’s argument, if you can call it that, extremely unconvincing. 

The approach backed by Rubio and Jindal would bar immigrants from means-tested transfers for some unspecified period. Jindal writes:

We should bar those seeking public assistance from receiving welfare or unemployment benefits for a substantial period of time.

Given the extremely low income levels in this population, this implies allowing hunger to persist in mixed-status households. That is, many households headed by registered provisional immigrants or guest workers will include native-born children, who will be barred from programs like SNAP. This may or may not be a wise public policy decision. It will most assuredly spark opposition from Americans concerned about extreme deprivation. 

If this is the kind of policy thinking we can expect from the Louisiana governor, I’m disappointed. Jindal has done admirable work on education reform, and he is clearly exceptionally sharp. But his latest op-ed strains credulity — he embraces positions that are essentially identical to those embedded in the Senate immigration bill, including a path to citizenship, yet he seems to want more less-skilled immigration and a border enforcement process that rests on a pro forma decision by Congress and border state governors. Why wouldn’t he just call for a trivial amendment to the Senate immigration bill? 



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