It is painful to watch Marco Rubio’s maneuverings on immigration. He is refusing to say whether he will vote “yes” on his own Gang of Eight bill after spending months drafting, defending, and helping shepherd it to the floor. He has supposedly discovered that the enforcement provisions are inadequate, although he has done countless interviews touting that the bill contains the “toughest immigration-enforcement measures in the history of United States” (which is what his website still says). At the same time, Rubio declares the bill 95–96 percent perfect.
This is all very confusing, but perhaps we can help the senator get his story straight: He should vote against the bill. It is an amnesty-first, enforcement-maybe program drawn up mainly to reflect the priorities of 11 million citizens of other countries rather than the concerns of more than 300 million citizens of the United States.
Most of the so-called security triggers in the bill are paper tigers. The requirement that those applying for amnesty have clean criminal records in fact allows for two misdemeanor convictions and, like most of the triggers, can be waived by the Department of Homeland Security. Senator John Cornyn of Texas has sought to have those with drunk-driving convictions excluded, but he is meeting resistance — Senator John McCain called the Cornyn amendment, which modestly strengthens other security provisions as well, a “poison pill.” The bill as written excludes only those with three or more drunk-driving convictions — “habitual” drunk drivers.
Likewise, the fines for illegal immigrants contemplated by the Gang of Eight can, under the current bill, be waived by DHS, and the collection of unpaid taxes applies only to levies already assessed by our dear friends at the IRS. The main security provisions of the legislation require only that DHS draw up a plan for security. (That is classic Washington: a plan to have a plan.) The much-vaunted requirement that DHS achieve 90 percent effectiveness for border security requires only self-certification by the DHS; in the unlikely event that DHS does not give itself a passing score, the only result under the law would be the creation of a commission to study the problem. Completing a border fence is left to the discretion of the DHS, which does not support doing so. Likewise, the requirement that the federal government institute a system of controls on those who overstay their visas — which already is a legal requirement and has been since 1996 — is left largely to the discretion of DHS.
All of the concerns above are problematic on their own, but they are rendered especially troublesome by the fact that the legalization of millions of illegal immigrants happens first, immediately and irreversibly. If this bill should be signed into law, the amnesty would go into effect immediately, and the most that any of the so-called triggers would do is delay the process of allowing the formerly illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and citizenship. That is the fundamental flaw of Senator Rubio’s design, and none of his playing Hamlet about the issue is going to change that. The bill is not wrong only in its details, but in its fundamental architecture, including in its guest-worker program and increases in other categories of low-skilled workers.
The Gang of Eight bill does not serve the economic interests of the United States. The fact is that our public schools do an excellent job of producing an abundant supply of unskilled workers with little or no proficiency in English, and the national labor force is not achingly in need of a few million more. And in failing to ensure that the borders and ports of entry are truly and robustly secure, it shortchanges the national-security interests of the country as well. Neither changing green-card rules to accommodate domestic labor-market needs nor physically securing the border requires an amnesty for those illegal immigrants who are already present. Nor does implementing E-Verify and complying with existing law on entry-exit visas. In fact, there is not a single item on the productive-immigration-reform agenda that requires an amnesty for illegals — and, remarkably, nobody in this debate has made much of a serious attempt to explain how or why that amnesty is in the interests of the citizens of the United States.
By more than doubling the number of so-called guest workers admitted each year, the bill would help create a permanent underclass of foreign workers. The 2007 Bush-Kennedy proposal was rejected in part because it would have added 125,000 new guest workers. The Gang of Eight bill would add 1.6 million in the first year, and about 600,000 a year after that: That’s the population of Philadelphia in Year One and the population of Boston each year after. That is a lot of taxation without representation. And that is on top of a 50 percent or more increase in the total level of legal immigration. While life as a member of an American underclass surely would be an attractive alternative for members of the underclasses of many other countries, the creation of a large population of second-class workers is undesirable from the point of view of the American national interest, which should be our guiding force in this matter.
Beyond its treatment of illegal immigrants, the very large expansion in legal immigration that the bill would establish is problematic as well. While there are some persuasive economic arguments in favor of expanding legal immigration, the United States is a nation with an economy, not an economy with a nation. Our failure to fully assimilate new immigrants over the past several decades is not a reflection of our inability but our unwillingness to do so. That some are arguing for this bill as a necessary political sop to Hispanic voters is indicative of the toxic ethnic politics that we should be working to eliminate — and that radically higher levels of immigration would almost certainly entrench. As with strengthened security measures, proposals to prudently limit the total number of new immigrants have been rejected.
The Gang of Eight’s play now is clearly to come up with some fig leaf of an amendment on enforcement that won’t affect the fundamentals of the bill, while giving enough Republicans cover to vote for it to get to a supermajority of 70. (And win back the dramatically wavering Rubio — this stagecraft has all the subtlety of the WWE.) Seventy votes is considered the threshold for pressuring the House to act on a “comprehensive reform” with all the same flaws of the Senate version.
A note about the political background to all this: This bill is in no small part a reaction to the 2012 election, a product of the media-consultant complex that has convinced Republicans that immigration reform is the key to the Hispanic heart, and that Hispanic votes are the key to winning future presidential elections. Republicans probably are too optimistic about their prospects among Hispanic voters. But it is worth noting that the two sides in this immigration debate are being led by Hispanic Republican senators: Marco Rubio for the Gang of Eight, Ted Cruz for the opposition. One of them, needless to say, is making more sense than the other.