Border Wars
Ron Paul, Gary Johnson push left on immigration amnesty.


Kevin D. Williamson

A strange thing is afoot in the little libertarian corner of the Republican presidential primary: a race to the left on immigration.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, until recently something of an immigration hawk — no amnesty, no birthright citizenship, no welfare benefits — has, as they say, evolved. Representative Paul was a tough critic of the Bush administration’s “comprehensive reform” (read: “surrender”) project; today, he is calling for amnesty in the form of “green cards with an asterisk.” That asterisk would merely prevent newly legalized green-card holders from collecting welfare benefits or receiving full legal citizenship until certain unspecified mandates had been satisfied. If anything, what Ron Paul is proposing now is as weak as anything contemplated by George W. Bush.

Prior to this change of heart, one of the key differences between Representative Paul and the general run of free-market immigration enthusiasts had been that his thinking on immigration was not exclusively economic, but cultural as well: “We cannot continue to ignore the cultural aspects of immigration,” he wrote. “We rightfully expect immigrants to show a sincere desire to become American citizens, speak English, and assimilate themselves culturally. . . . Today, however, some immigrants travel between countries frequently, enjoying the benefits of America but showing no desire to become Americans. Some even display hostility toward America and our ideals, joining the chorus of voices demanding that the United States become a multicultural society that rejects our own history. It is this cultural conflict that soon must be addressed, and the president’s amnesty proposal simply turns a blind eye to the problem.”

In his new book, Liberty Defined, Paul instead praises the “superior” work ethic of immigrants and cites anti-Hispanic prejudice as the source of immigration hawks’ energy, giving fits to former fans such as Tom Tancredo. His objections to multiculturalism seem to be waning.

What’s got into Ron Paul? The best guess is: Gary Johnson.

Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, has joined the Republican primary race, too, and he’s out to out-libertarian the libertarians’ poster boy.

Johnson is not claiming credit for Representative Paul’s new outlook. “Did he change his views?” he asks cooly. “Well, the thing about politics is that you end up changing the world a little bit when others recognize that what you’re saying is a good thing.”

In effect, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are in a race to the left in a Republican party — and a country — that is in an energetically restrictionist mood, especially when it comes to illegal immigrants. A Southwest Voter Research Institute poll found that 69 percent of Hispanics in Texas favor deploying additional federal forces to secure the border, and more than half support a national identification card; Pew found Democratic voters nearly evenly split on Arizona’s immigration reforms.