Think about the long term. Jay Cost has argued in the The Weekly Standard that “the Gang of Eight bill hurts the Republican party in ways that are central to its long-term viability.” In the Senate, a minority of Republicans, led by Marco Rubio, endorsed an immigration bill that, unfortunately, looks as though it could be a thoroughly backward-looking measure in terms of rejuvenating the party and restoring the nation’s economy. Its answer for a nation with stagnating opportunity, an out-of-control bureaucracy, and heightening civic divisions is lower wages, an even bigger bureaucracy, and more second-class residents. There is no reason for the House GOP to repeat these mistakes. The breakdown in economic opportunity and the collapse of the Republican party’s standing in the working class is very bad news for the GOP and the future of conservatism, and the House must be sure not to exacerbate it.
Think beyond identity politics. Many proponents of this unworkable “comprehensive” reform often slip into the language of identity politics. In response to this collectivist tendency, allies of forward-looking immigration reform can respond with some of the following questions.
Does this piece of legislation affirm the civic dignity of all Americans? Does it promote economic opportunity for Americans of all stripes, from high-school dropouts to MBAs? Does it reknit the commonwealth under the law? Does it restore civic trust?
Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that S. 744 — and any potential House legislation in essential harmony with that bill — answers those questions in the negative. A report released by the Center for Immigration Studies last week revealed collapsing levels in employment for native-born Americans in a variety of categories, including those without a college degree and those younger than 30. This decrease cannot be solely attributed to the Great Recession; many of those numbers were falling prior to 2008. When we need to restore market demand and open up opportunity for Americans, more downward pressure on workers through more illegal immigration, guest-worker programs, and poorly designed legal-immigration pathways seems a problematic proposition at best.
Realize that any immigration bill is not going to take immigration “off the table.” Any argument that says the GOP should support such a measure to remove immigration as a political issue should be treated with immediate suspicion. Millions would be left as illegal immigrants under the Senate plan and most other legalization plans, and millions more illegal immigrants, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would arrive over the next ten years. Many provisions of the Senate bill — from the long wait time for citizenship to the status of guest workers — provide plenty of opportunities for the Left to demagogue this issue. Any changes to U.S. immigration law also change the future composition of the body politic. Immigration as a national policy question has not been “off the table” since 1789; don’t expect the latest link of congressional sausage to change that.
Huge guest-worker programs are not a free-market solution. The free market demands that workers be able to bargain freely and openly for their labor. The H-1B-visa changes and the W-visa plan of the Senate bill place radical limits on the ability of guest workers to find the best jobs for themselves, and this undermining of the market could have significant implications for legal immigrants and U.S. workers. These plans restrict where guest workers can seek employment, and they create numerous bureaucratic distortions of the market. Meanwhile, the complicated (and loophole-ridden) nature of these plans would often seem to favor the connected at the expense of the average worker and employer. Abraham Lincoln and other founders of the Republican party understood the alliance between free markets and free labor; huge guest-worker programs seem to be just about the antithesis of the free movement of labor so important for American capitalism.