The House Republican leadership has been confronted by devilishly difficult tactical choices over the years. But what to do on the issue of immigration right now isn’t one of them. The correct course is easy and eminently achievable: Do nothing.
The old Reagan catchphrase calling for non-action — don’t just do something, stand there — has never been more apt. Yet the House leadership is about to roll out a set of immigration principles reportedly including an amnesty for illegal aliens, and presumably will follow up with a push to pass them through the House. This is legislative strategy as unforced error.
The basic tactical reason not to act now is that the last thing the party needs is a brutal intramural fight when it has been dealt a winning hand on Obamacare. It is not as though the public is clamoring for an immigration bill. Only 3 percent cited immigration as the biggest problem facing the country in a Gallup poll earlier this month. In the key contests that will decide partisan control of the Senate, Republican candidates are much more likely to be helped than hurt by refusing to sign onto any form of amnesty.
The other prudential reason not to act is that President Obama obviously can’t be trusted. Any immigration deal would have to trade enhanced enforcement for an amnesty. Since the president refuses to enforce key provisions of his own health-care law, let alone provisions of immigration law he finds uncongenial, he obviously can’t be relied on to follow up on his end of any bargain. It is hard to fathom how any Republican can possibly believe otherwise.
Finally, the path set out by the House leadership will — if the early reports are to be believed — represent bad policy. Unfortunately, many Republicans have convinced themselves that the key question is whether or not illegal immigrants eventually get citizenship, and insist that only a law that creates a “path to citizenship” is amnesty. They are wrong on both counts. The central question is whether illegal immigrants are allowed to work and live here legally. As soon as they are, that’s the amnesty. For most of these immigrants, eventual citizenship will be an afterthought.
The leadership is also likely to sign on to increased levels of legal immigration. In this it reflects the obsession of the business establishment, for which the answer to the dire employment crisis among low-skilled workers is always to import more low-skilled workers. We salute Senator Jeff Sessions for blowing the whistle on this folly and relentlessly making the pro-worker case against ever-higher levels of immigration.
We believe in incremental immigration reform, but pace the Republican House leadership, that doesn’t mean simply chopping up the Gang of Eight bill and passing its constituent parts piecemeal. It means insisting on real enforcement, including an E-Verify system to confirm the legal status of workers and an exit-entry system to track foreign visitors, that is up and running before anything else passes. Then there can be the grand bargain of the sort outlined by Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in our latest issue, trading an amnesty for lower levels of legal immigration.
For now, nothing worth having can pass the Democratic Senate or get signed into law by President Obama. Rank-and-file conservatives in the House should firmly reject the course that their leadership wants to take, and convince it to reconsider. We hope, in short, that they make a clarion call for inaction.