Marco Rubio is one of the elected officials I admire most in American life, and I’ve been impressed by how he has set out to persuade conservative doubters on immigration. I think this key exchange with Rush the other day, though, could easily have been misunderstood by listeners. Here it is (emphasis added):
RUSH: You know, the president’s gonna be out in Las Vegas today, I know for you border security is the first and last, if that doesn’t happen, none of the rest does, right?
RUBIO: Well, not just that. That alone is not enough. It has to be a combination. We need border security. We need workplace enforcement. We need a visa tracking system. You know, 40% of our illegal immigrants of our undocumented people that are in this country, they didn’t cross the border, they came legally. Their visa expired and they stayed and we don’t track people when they leave. We only track them when they come in. So all three of those things have to happen and, by the way, the language of the bill has not even been drafted yet. These are just principles. And I agree with you; this is gonna be a challenge. If, in fact, this bill does not have real triggers in there, if there is not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place, I won’t support it. But the principles clearly call for that. Now, obviously, we have to make sure the law does, too.
But the principles don’t call for that. A better answer to Rush would have been, “No, according to our principles eligible people get probationary legal status before we know the outcome of the enforcement measures, but enforcement has to kick in before they can get any further down the road to a green card and citizenship.”
Here are the principles (emphasis added again): “While these security measures are being put into place, we will simultaneously require those who came or remained in the United States without our permission to register with the government. This will include passing a background check and settling their debt to society by paying a fine and back taxes, in order to earn probationary legal status, which will allow them to live and work legally in the United States.” As our friend Byron York noted the other day, Chuck Schumer was quite explicit about this at the press conference announcing the Gang of 8 principles: “On Day One of our bill, the people without status [i.e., illegal immigrants] who are not criminals or security risks will be able to live and work here legally.”
The principles spell out how the enforcement trigger refers to the green cards: “Once the enforcement measures have been completed, individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency.”
Rubio was much clearer about this sequencing in his very well-argued post at RedState:
First, those who have violated our immigration laws must come forward and undergo a background check. If they have committed a serious crime, they will be deported. If they have not, they will have two choices. They can avail themselves of the current law which requires them to return to their native country, wait ten years and then apply for a green card. Or if they decide to remain in the United States, they will do so under the equivalent of a non-immigrant work permit by paying a substantial fine and back taxes. If they choose the non-immigrant work visa, they will not qualify for any federal benefits, including ObamaCare.
Those who choose the non-immigrant work permit will not be allowed to apply for a green card for a substantial period of time. And they will not be allowed to apply until the enforcement mechanisms outlined above are in place.
I think once it sinks in for conservatives that what we are talking about here is amnesty (or whatever euphemism you want to use) before any triggers, this proposed legislation will have less appeal than it does right now. I’m also not sure why Rubio is so insistent on triggers, if the triggers don’t have anything to do with the initial legalization of illegal immigrants. If I were an advocate of amnesty, all I would want is that initial legalization on the assumption that everything else can be litigated — sometimes literally — later.